So far the nation's economy has yet to find much direction in the New Year. Most of the fundamentals that defined 02 are still in play.
Inflation remains benign. Low interest rates have encouraged consumers to buy some big ticket items like discounted autos, but for the most part consumers prefer to bottom feed on bargains. The nation's manufacturing capacity remains untested by demand, and the prospect of war is clouding the investment climate.
The outlook is marginally better for Rural America. Washington seems ready to offer up disaster relief, although there is controversy over legislation that would drop dollars on many who haven't been affected by last year's disaster. And while price prospects have been improving, the weather continues to occupy a huge presence in the market place.
That news coupled with a burst of orders from China provided support to the bean complex. Closer to home there are serious questions about the ability of shippers to deliver beans and next year's American harvest.
On the upper reaches of the Mississippi River basin barge loadings have been restricted by low water levels. The water level of Mississippi River is nearing 13-year lows, and the traffic on shipping tributaries like the Illinois and Missouri rivers has slowed dramatically for fear of running barges aground. The low water levels are attributable to last year's Midwest drought that has persisted through the winter.
The drought is of no small concern to farmers. Last year it claimed yields in much of the nation's grain belt. The unusually dry winter offers the grim prospect of a weak harvest this year. Winter Wheat producers worry that a lack of snow cover during the current cold snap will damage their crop. Corn and soy producers fear a lack of sub-soil moisture will impair the ability of their crops to develop this spring.