While Wisconsin bankers say they’re optimistic about the state’s overall economy in 2019, they don’t have particularly high hopes for agricultural loans.

In the latest Wisconsin Bankers Association Bank CEO Economic Conditions Survey, conducted over the first two weeks of December, more than half of the 99 Wisconsin bank CEOs and presidents surveyed said they believe Wisconsin’s economy will remain strong in the new year. The rest of the respondents were almost evenly split on whether the economy will grow or weaken in the year ahead.

However, ag loans bucked the statewide trend. Almost half of respondents rated current demand for ag loans as fair, and 36 percent said it’s poor. Half of respondents said ag loan demand for 2019 will stay the same, while 42 percent predicted it will weaken further in the year ahead.

No respondents rated ag loans as excellent in the survey, while 15 percent said they’re good, 48 percent called them fair, and 36 percent said they’re poor.

Only 8 percent of those surveyed predicted that ag loan demand will grow this year, while half said it’ll stay the same and 42 percent said it’ll weaken.

As for the general economy, 85 percent of respondents rated Wisconsin’s current economic health as good or excellent. More than half said the state’s economy will be unchanged in the first half of 2019. The remaining responses were about split as to whether the economy will grow (21 percent) or weaken (25 percent).

A majority of responses to questions about other economic indicators followed this trend. When asked about the current economic health or demand for loans, most bankers (85 percent) said it’s good or excellent. Regarding the next six months, more than half predicted the current status would continue. Remaining responses almost even with positive and negative predictions (21 percent said it will grow, and 25 percent said it’ll weaken).

Businesses will hire more employees this year, according to 49 percent of respondents. Forty-six percent of bankers surveyed said businesses likely will maintain current staffing levels.

“As predicted in our last survey, 2018 was a great year for Wisconsin’s economy, as well as lending activity,” said WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald. “It’s very encouraging to see most bankers believe 2019 will continue that strong performance.

“Bankers are the best barometers of the economy, as they see all segments of every marketplace. They work together with their communities and are the first to see and understand Wisconsin’s economic trends due to their customers’ activities. In turn, our members use that information to help their communities prosper.”

The WBA is the state’s largest financial industry trade association, representing almost 235 commercial banks and savings institutions, along with their almost 2,300 branch offices and 23,000 employees.