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Oregon economy registers a couple of bright spots

Despite hopes for stepped-up business activity by the end of 1982, the Oregon economy still was "bumping sideways" in the fourth quarter. "Some sectors demonstrated renewed signs of life, but the economy overall seemed prepared for hibernation," says Dr. Kevin Kelly, manager of the department of economics at US Bancorp, a statewide bank holding company based here.

Still, Oregon's business showed considerable vitality as lumber- and wood-products orders picked up and the Christmas shopping season gave a boost to retail sales. "For the year as a whole, however, Oregon definitely went from bad to worse," says Dr. Kelly. "Almost no labor market was left untouched but layoffs, shortened work weeks, or pay cuts."

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The bank's business-barometer index (1979 equals 100) rose to 187.3 during the 1982 fourth period, marking a slight 0.3 percent change over the 1981 quarterly average of 186.8.

Statewide wage and salary employment declined by more than 4 percent last year, with net migration out of Oregon and a rise in "discouraged workers" contributing to a 20,000 person decline in the state's labor force, the barometer showed.

Dr. Kelly says improved housing starts, home sales, and lumber prices have given the construction, lumber, and wood-products industries something other than the past to think about. "While 1982 may have been the worst year ever for many firms, signs are emerging that 1983 will show significant improvement," he says.

Growing optimism in the forest-product industry seems justified, with lumber orders at Western sawmills at 107 percent of normal for the first two weeks of this year. Production and shipments were only 77 percent and 74 percent of normal, reflecting the usual lag time.

Oregon in recent years has put on a push to attract high-technology manufacturers, particularly from California, to beef up what had been billed as recession-resistant industries. However, "Nobody is immune from a three-year downturn," Dr. Kelly comments.

Loans at Oregon banks that are members of the Federal Reserve logged virtually no growth between 1981 and 1982 year ends. Deposit growth was similarly low, although new money-market accounts available at banks in December last year boosted an inflow of funds that helped create a 6.5 percent increase for 1982. Total savings at savings and loan associations fell $594 million through November 1982.

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