Area index falls to lowest level in 4 1/2 years 1st-quarter decline of indicator is steep


The Baltimore metropolitan area's economy deteriorated to its lowest level in four and a half years in the first quarter of 1991, according to a national accounting and consulting firm.

Chicago-based Grant Thornton reported yesterday that its measure of seven economic indicators shows the area's economy declined at a faster pace during the first three months of the year than those of 18 other cities. Among the two dozen cities the firm tracks, only the economies in Washington, Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit declined more in the quarter than the Baltimore area's. Baltimore lost 1.03 points on the index and fell to 107.1, the lowest level since September 1986.

Boston, among the cities that led the national recession, also remained depressed in the first quarter, Grant Thornton reported. Boston's index lost the most points in the last year and had the lowest overall score, 100.9.

Baltimore suffered the most because of weaknesses in non-farm employment, factory hours, construction permits and retail sales, said Morton D. Goldman, managing partner of Grant Thornton's Baltimore office. During the year that ended in March, Baltimore's index declined 2.68 points, worse than 12 other major cities, according to Grant Thornton.

Washington lost 1.09 points in the quarter and 3.81 points in the last year. But the capital was slightly ahead of Baltimore in the overall ranking, with a score of 107.7.

Denver had the biggest improvement, with an increase of 2.02, to 107.1, on the index. San Diego's economy, although in fourth place for quarterly improvement, was at the top of the heap for overall economic strength, with a score of 113.9.

The economy declined in 18 of the 24 cities during the quarter, according to Grant Thornton, and in 22 cities during the last year. Only Houston and Denver showed gains for the year.

The Grant Thornton Index comprises seven economic indicators: factory hours, non-farm employment, construction permits, retail sales, business starts, business failures and the money supply.

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