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Business Confidence Up, Manufacturing Challenged

BOSTON — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.3 points in November to 56.9, almost exactly where it stood a year before (56.8). “The story here is less the monthly gain than the longer-term pattern,” said Raymond Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. “Over the past year, the index rose nicely for five months and then started a fitful decline back to where it was last November. The hidden trend behind that pattern is a divergence in confidence levels between manufacturers and other employers.” He added that “our state’s manufacturing sector, which relies heavily upon international demand for its world-class products, is up against a strong dollar and weak conditions in all its major export markets — China, Japan, Canada, and Western Europe. Domestic demand is down as well because of global conditions and large inventories. In March, manufacturers were almost as confident as other employers, but the confidence gap has grown significantly since then.” Torto noted that the manufacturing sector is overrepresented in AIM’s survey, but that it plays a vital part in the Massachusetts economy. “If the sector continues to struggle in 2016, other sectors will feel the repercussions, especially in regions of the state with concentrations of manufacturing industries.” AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Presented on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, the index attained a historical high of 68.5 in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009.

State Issues Financial-literacy Report

BOSTON — State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, accompanied by her Financial Literacy Task Force, released their statewide report on the status of financial education in the Commonwealth. “I have always understood the responsibilities of the Treasurer’s office include insuring economic stability within our state,” Goldberg said. “This means building a robust financial-literacy program, which is a critical step toward strengthening economic security for everyone in Massachusetts.” The task force, under the direction of the Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment, launched a comprehensive research effort in April. The diverse group of policymakers, educators, bankers, and advocates convened for six months. Their goal was to develop a road map to resources that will empower every Massachusetts resident with the skills they need to manage their money, plan for college, save for retirement, and better understand the impact of their economic decisions. “Implementing the recommendations of this task force will make a difference in the quality of the lives of Massachusetts citizens of all ages and backgrounds,” said former Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony, who chaired the task force. “The task force work presents the vital road map for the future of financial literacy in our state.” Some initiatives within the report include increasing accessibility to all financial education activities and programs throughout the state, promoting a public financial-education awareness campaign, communicating the family-dynamic principle to stakeholders, and incorporating it in all financial-literacy programming within the Office of Economic Empowerment. The 31 task force members identified three key demographic groups — K-12 students, college students, and adults — for the largest scope of fiscal impact on the state. The task force’s final report serves as an action plan for Goldberg and the Economic Empowerment Trust Fund Board. “Though we are keenly aware all adults can benefit from financial services, the adult subcommittee of Treasurer Goldberg’s Financial Literacy Task Force determined low-to-moderate income families, first-generation immigrants, women, seniors, and veterans are particularly vulnerable, and have set forth recommendations to ensure their financial well-being throughout their lifetime,” said Sylvia de Haas Phillips, subcommittee co-chair and senior vice president of United Way.

Standard & Poor’s Affirms State’s AA+ Bond Rating

BOSTON — In a communication to the Commonwealth, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services shared that it has affirmed Massachusetts’ AA+ credit rating on its general obligation bonds, while also providing notice that it is changing the Commonwealth’s outlook to ‘negative’ due to concerns about a multi-year trend on spending and the use of reserve funds. “While we have retained our current AA+ rating, we recognize and acknowledge the areas of concern raised today by Standard & Poor’s revised outlook,” Treasurer Deb Goldberg said. “I will continue to emphasize the importance of building our reserves, and I look forward to working with the administration and Legislature to establish the path to a healthier, stronger reserve balance for Massachusetts.”

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