There are less than two weeks left until the November 2nd elections, and though the economy is but one of the issues being discussed by the candidates ... it remains a principal topic for many voters.
Here's the latest:
Consumer prices rose a modest two-tenths of a percent last month, further evidence that inflation is NOT a threat to the economy. The Conference Board's Index of Leading Indicators edged lower in September for the fourth month in a row, indicating a slowdown in economic growth. And, the government reports that Americans receiving Social Security will get a 2.7 percent increase in their monthly checks, money that likely will be eaten up by higher Medicare premiums.
Meanwhile, as harvest rolls on, the economic conditions in farm country have been good lately. Farm income is on the rise and the credit system that serves rural America is sound. That system steered away from dramatic change this week when a member of the federally backed Farm Credit System shut down controversial merger talks.
FCSA also turned back a rival merger bid from fellow Farm Credit Services member, AgStar Financial Services of Minnesota. Shareholders would have had the final say on either proposal.
The FCSA acquisition by Dutch-based Rabobank grew increasingly controversial as criticism mounted from farmers, credit lenders and members of Congress. Those objections were based on Rabobank's plans to convert FCSA into a commercial bank ... and on the belief that FCSA's exit from the Farm Credit System would endanger the overall health of the system.
For its part, FCSA said it was entertaining the merger proposal to escape the federal system's restrictions on lending, which include a ban on offering home loans in communities with populations under 2,500. FCSA's four-state lending area includes Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
In rejecting the merger proposals, FCSA instead established a patronage dividend program that is expected to pay out some $55 million to its customer stockholders in early 2005. That's a far cry from the Rabobank proposal, which the Dutch bank had sweetened to $750 million. It also would have paid at least an $800 million exit fee to the Farm Credit System's insurance fund.
Rabobank officials said they were disappointed by FCSA's withdrawal from talks, but they remain determined to expand in the U.S. market. They even said they would consider the purchase of another Farm Credit System member if the opportunity presents itself.