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Economy in Brief

U.S. Small Business Optimism Dips Again
by Tom Moeller  October 11, 2016

The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index eased 0.3% during September to 94.1 following an unrevised 0.2% August dip. Optimism remained down 6.2% versus its peak in December 2014.

A diminished net 7% of firms reported that now was a good time to expend the business. The least percentage (-7%) of firms since February expected credit conditions to ease. The percent planning to add to inventories fell sharply. The percentage planning to raise capital spending eased to the lowest point in six months. To the upside, the percentage of firms expecting the economy to improve rose to the highest level since January 2015. An improved 4%, the best this year, were expecting higher real sales in six months. An increased -20% of firms expected higher real earnings this quarter.

A slightly higher ten percent of firms expected to increase employment. A steady 48% of respondents found few or no qualified candidates to fill job openings, but that remained at the cycle high. A greatly diminished 24% of firms had positions they were not able to fill right now, the least since June of last year. A diminished 22% of firms raised worker compensation over the last three months, while a stable 14% were expecting to raise it in the next three months.

Small businesses' pricing ability deteriorated as a net 1% of firms were lowering prices. Expectations about the future ability to raise prices, however, jumped to 18%, the highest percentage since December.

A slightly increased five percent of firms reported that credit was tougher to get, up from three percent in October. A sharply increased 32% of firms felt satisfied that their borrowing needs had been filled in the last three months.

Twenty two percent of firms indicated that taxes were the single most important problem, the most in three months. A reduced 17% reported that government requirements were the largest single problem. A higher 17% felt challenged by the quality of labor, and a higher 13% of firms indicated that poor sales were the largest single problem. A reduced six percent reported the cost of labor was the biggest problem. A lessened seven percent reported insurance cost & availability as the largest hurdle, down from 10% in April. An increased eight percent reported competition from large businesses as the largest problem. Inflation was indicated by a stable two percent of respondents as the largest problem, down from four percent in May.

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.

The U.S. Economy and Monetary Policy by Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer can be found here.

National Federation of Independent Business (SA, Net %) Sep Aug Jul Sep'15 2015 2014 2013
Small Business Optimism Index (1986=100) 94.1 94.4 94.6 96.0 96.1 95.6 92.4
Firms Reporting Now is a Good Time To Expand the Business 7 9 8 11 11 10 7
Firms Expecting Higher Real Sales In Six Months 4 -1 1 2 8 11 4
Firms Expecting Economy To Improve 0 -12 -5 -6 -5 -5 -15
Firms Planning to Increase Employment 10 9 12 11 12 10 6
Firms With Few or No Qualified Applicants For Job Openings 48 48 46 45 46 43 39
Firms Reporting That Credit Was Harder To Get 5 4 4 4 4 6 6
Firms Raising Average Selling Prices -1 3 -2 1 2 8 2
Firms Raising Worker Compensation 22 24 24 23 23 21 15
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