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Economy in Brief

U.S. Small Business Optimism Deteriorates to Two-Year Low
by Tom Moeller  February 9, 2016

The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index declined 1.4% during January to 93.9 following a 0.7% December rise. The index was 6.4% below its peak of 100.4 in December 2014. According to the NFIB, the January level remained below the 42-year average of 98.

The percentage of firms expecting the economy to improve fell sharply to -21, the lowest point since November 2013. The net percentage of firms expecting higher real sales in six months deteriorated to 3, but that was improved from -1 in November. As for business activity, 10% of firms reported that now was a good time to expand the business, near the low end of the range of the last 18 months.

A lessened 11% a firms expected to increase employment and 45% of respondents found few or no qualified candidates to fill job openings, the least since September. Twenty-nine percent of firms had positions they were not able to fill right now, up from 9% in 2009. A greatly increased net 27% of firms raised worker compensation over the last twelve months, but a greatly sharply lower 16% were expecting to raise it in the next three months, the least since August.

Small businesses ability to improve pricing remained under pressure. Four percent of firms were lowering prices, down from 12% raising them in July of 2014. Expectations about the ability to raise prices also deteriorated. Sixteen percent of firms were planning to raise prices, the least in three months.

Credit was more difficult to get as 5% reported trouble, up from 3% at the low. Thirty five percent of firms felt satisfied that their borrowing needs had been filled in the last three months. That equaled the expansion high.

A reduced 21% of firms indicated that taxes were the single most important problem while a greatly lessened 18% reported government requirements were the largest single problem. A stable 15% felt challenged by the quality of labor. Eight percent reported insurance cost and availability as the largest problem, but a higher 12% indicated poor sales as their biggest problem. An increased 9 percent reported competition from large businesses as the largest problem. A steady 5% reported the cost of labor was a big problem. It's been near that level since early in 2013 and inflation was indicated by only 2%, remaining nearly the least since 2003.

Roughly 24 million small businesses exist in the U.S. and they create 80% of all new jobs. The typical NFIB member employs 10 people and reports gross sales of about $500,000 a year. The NFIB figures can be found in Haver's SURVEYS database.

National Federation of Independent Business (SA, Net %) Jan Dec Nov Jan'15 2015 2014 2013
Small Business Optimism Index (1986=100) 93.9 95.2 94.5 97.7 96.1 95.6 92.4
Firms Reporting Now is a Good Time To Expand the Business 10 8 12 13 11 10 7
Firms Expecting Higher Real Sales In Six Months 3 7 -1 14 8 11 4
Firms Expecting Economy To Improve -21 -15 -10 0 -5 -5 -15
Firms Planning to Increase Employment 11 15 11 13 12 10 6
Firms With Few or No Qualified Applicants For Job Openings 45 48 47 42 46 43 39
Firms Reporting That Credit Was Harder To Get 5 5 4 4 4 6 6
Firms Raising Average Selling Prices -4 -1 4 6 2 8 2
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