Las Vegas economic recovery remains flat

After a month of strong improvement, the Southern Nevada Index of Leading Economic Indicators receded to 122.87 in April, a 0.74 percent decline from the previous month, the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research reported Tuesday.

Although the index gave back some of the ground gained in March, it's been generally flat over the past year, CBER assistant director Bob Potts said. The index registered 126.48 in April 2010, though the number has since been revised downward to 123.

"This flat trajectory suggests that improvement in the Southern Nevada job picture is more than four months away," Potts said. "If you look at March (2010) through February, it's a slight trend up. My point is, flat is the new norm."

Gaming revenue decreased 7 percent in February to $769.5 million, but taking out high-stakes baccarat play, core gaming revenue was actually up, the economic analyst noted.

The numbers are consistent with CBER's Business Confidence Index, which is based on a quarterly survey of local businesses. For the past two quarters, respondents have been slightly more positive than negative in their overall business outlook, but they remain a little less optimistic about employment, Potts said.

All four indexes compiled by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas research center dropped in February.

The Clark County Business Activity Index fell to 155.99, down 1.6 percent from a year ago; the tourism index fell to 136.51, down 2.1 percent; and the construction index fell 14 percent to 47.99.

"I see this one (month) as a catch-your-breath, pause kind of thing," Potts said. "I expect next month to turn around. I'm starting to see some numbers already and hearing anecdotes. Taxable sales will hold and gaming revenue will come back."

It's the same thing Potts has been seeing for a while. Construction is still slipping, but tourism is slowly improving.

The number of passengers arriving at McCarran International Airport increased 2.4 percent in February and visitor volume rose nearly 1 percent from the same month a year ago.

The Clark County Construction Index five-month average ticked up slightly in February, driven by an increase in construction jobs. On a yearly basis, however, the index continued its downward slide.

Residential and commercial building permits fell 61.5 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while residential and commercial permit valuation declined 46.8 percent and 51.3 percent, respectively.

When declines in the index come to an end, construction activity will likely remain at low levels until excess real estate inventory is absorbed, Potts said. The overhang of some 22,000 homes on the market and double-digit commercial vacancy suggest it will be three to four years before development picks up.

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