Economic gauge for Las Vegas climbs

Southern Nevada's economy is holding steady with key indicators showing little change over the past 12 months, a UNLV economist said Thursday.

The Southern Nevada Index of Leading Economic Indicators registered 126.11 in June, a slight increase from 125.91 in the previous month, but down from 126.96 a year ago.

Six of the 10 data series contributed positively to the index, led by 497 residential building permits and $52.8 million in residential permit valuation, up 21 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from a year ago. Commercial building permits and valuation, gaming revenue and convention attendance dragged the index down.

The index has hovered around the 126 mark for more than a year.

"This pattern suggests that our economy has bottomed out," said Constant Tra, associate director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and economics professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "I wouldn't be surprised to see the same pattern, basically flat, for the rest of the year. Any movement up and down hasn't been more than plus or minus 1 percent."

Tra said he expects to see little change in the local economy's health until the index's data series show consistent improvement, which will only come from growth in the national and international economies.

The economic index, compiled by the UNLV research center, is a six-month forecast from the month of data, based on a net-weighted average of each series after adjustment for seasonal variation. June's index is based on April data.

The accompanying chart includes several of the index's categories, along with data such as new residents and employment and housing numbers, updated for the most recent month for which figures are available.

A separate Clark County tourism index declined from both the previous month and from year-ago levels, driven by a drop in gaming revenue and passenger counts at McCarran International Airport.

"For us, as far as gaming numbers, it hinges on what happens at the national level," Tra said. "There is still uncertainty. Unemployment numbers are still up there. The federal stimulus will help the national economy and hopefully we benefit from that, but for the short term, I don't see tourism recovering in a big way in 2010.

"The first signs of recovery are likely to appear in 2011, maybe the second quarter."

The Clark County construction index posted another double-digit decline, dropping nearly 24 percent from a year ago. Only commercial permitting activity showed an increase, going from nine in March to 14 in April, which will do little to revive this flagging sector, Tra said.

The Clark County business activity index, which measures gaming revenue, taxable sales and employment, increased in April from March, but remains well below year-ago levels. The only positive in the data is the slowing of the decline in general business activity on an annual basis, Tra said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.