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  • 8/7/2019 NFIB March

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    NFIBSMALL BUSINESS

    ECONOMIC TRENDS

    NFIBSMALL BUSINESS

    ECONOMIC TRENDS

    William C. DunkelbergHolly Wade

    March 2011

    S M A L L B U S I N E S S O P T I M I S M I N D E X C O M P O N E N T S

    Seasonally Change From Contribution

    Index Component Adjusted Level Last Month Index Change

    Plans to Increase Employment 5% 2 *Plans to Make Capital Outlays 22% 0 *Plans to Increase Inventories -2% -1 *

    Expect Economy to Improve 9% -1 *Expect Real Sales Higher 14% 1 *Current Inventory 2% 2 *Current Job Openings 15% 2 *

    Expected Credit Conditions -10% 0 *Now a Good Time to Expand 7% -1 *Earnings Trend -27% 1 *Total Change 5 *

    Based on a Survey of Small and Independent Business Owners

    Column 1is the current reading; column 2 is the change from the prior month; column 3 the percent of the total changeaccounted for by each component; * is under 1 percent and not a meaningful calculation.

  • 8/7/2019 NFIB March

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    The NFIB Research Foundation has collected

    Small Business Economic Trends Data with Quar-terly surveys since 1973 and monthly surveys since

    1986. The sample is drawn from the membership

    files of the National Federation of Independent

    Business (NFIB). Each was mailed a question-

    naire and one reminder. Subscriptions for twelve

    monthly SBET issues are $250. Historical and

    unadjusted data are available, along with a copy

    of the questionnaire, from the NFIB Research

    Foundation. You may reproduce Small Business

    Economic Trends items if you cite the publica-tion name and date and note it is a copyright of

    the NFIB Research Foundation. NFIB Research

    Foundation. ISBS #0940791-24-2. Chief Econo-

    mist William C. Dunkelberg and Policy Analyst

    Holly Wade are responsible for the report.

    NFIBSMALL BUSINESS

    ECONOMIC TRENDS

    IN THIS ISSUE

    Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

    Commentary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

    Optimism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

    Outlook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

    Earnings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

    Sales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

    Prices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

    Employment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    Compensation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

    Credit Conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

    Inventories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14

    Capital Outlays. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

    Most Important Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

    Survey Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

    Economic Survey. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

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    1|NFIBSmallBusinessEcono

    micTrendsMonthlyReport

    SUMMARY

    OPTIMISM INDEX

    The Index of Small Business Optimism gained 0.4 points in February , rising

    to 94.5, not the hoped-for surge that would signal a shift into second gear

    for economic growth. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in the fourth

    quarter was revised lower due to a large fall off in inventory building andweaker consumer spending than initially estimated. Weak sales still get

    the most votes by owners as their top business problem. Seven Index

    components advanced or were unchanged and three fell, but all of the

    changes, positive or negative, were small.

    LABOR MARKETS

    Fifteen percent (seasonally adjusted) reported unfilled job openings (up

    two points from January), hinting that the unemployment rate could notch

    down a bit. Over the next three months, 17 percent plan to increaseemployment (up five points), and six percent plan to reduce their

    workforce (down two points), yielding a seasonally adjusted net five

    percent of owners planning to create new jobs, a two point gain.

    CAPITAL SPENDING

    The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past 6 months fell 2

    points to 49 percent of all firms. Owners remain in maintenance mode,

    apparently unwilling to risk new capital investments or not seeing any need

    for them. Capital spending remains historically low in spite of very lowinterest rates and all sorts of expensing incentives. However, the problem

    is that cheaper equipment is still no bargain if you cant use it. The

    percent of owners planning capital outlays in the future was unchanged at

    22 percent, and is still historically quite low. Seven percent characterized

    the current period as a good time to expand facilities (seasonally adjusted),

    down one point from January. A net nine percent expect business

    conditions to improve over the next six months, down one point, not a

    reading that characterizes a strongly rebounding economy.

    INVENTORIES AND SALES

    The net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher

    nominal sales over the past three months was unchanged at a net negative

    11 percent, 23 points better than March 2009, but still indicative of weak

    customer activity. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales

    continued to rise, gaining one point to a net 14 percent of all owners

    (seasonally adjusted). A net negative eight percent of all owners reported

    growth in inventories (seasonally adjusted), a two point improvement. For

    all firms, a net two percent (up two points) reported stocks too low,

    historically a very positive level of stock satisfaction. However, plans to

    add to inventories lost a point declining to a net negative two percent of all

    firms (seasonally adjusted), consistent with weak sales trends, but not

    consistent with the improved outlook for real sales volumes.

    This survey was conducted in February 2011. A sample of 3,938 small-business owners/members was drawn.

    Seven hundred seventy-four (774) usable responses were received a response rate of 20 percent.

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    2|NFIBSmallBusinessEconomicTrendsMonthlyReport

    INFLATION

    The spectacular period of price cutting in the small business sector was

    triggered by the sudden decrease in consumer spending late in 2008 and

    the need to get rid of inventory accumulated to satisfy the spending of a

    consumer that had forgotten how to save. The net percent of owners

    reporting higher average selling prices peaked at 32 percent in July 2008,

    fell to zero that November and to a negative six percent in December, a

    decline of 38 percentage points in just five months. For the next 25

    months, the percent reducing selling prices exceeded the percent raising

    prices by as much as 24 percentage points. Thats over! In January, the

    seasonally adjusted net percent reporting higher selling prices was negative

    four percent and in February, it hit a positive five percent. Seasonally

    adjusted, the net percent of owners raising prices was five percent. January

    was the 26th consecutive month in which more owners reported cutting

    average selling prices than raising them. February ended that trend and as

    the economy improves, more and more firms will be able to raise prices.

    The trend is clearly supportive of higher prices in future months. Plans to

    raise prices rose two points to a net seasonally adjusted 21 percent of

    owners, the highest reading in 28 months. With an improving economy,

    more and more of these hikes will stick.

    PROFITS AND WAGES

    Reports of positive earnings trends improved one point in February,

    registering a net negative 27 percent. Better, but still far more owners

    report that earnings are deteriorating quarter on quarter than rising. Part of

    this is due to price cutting, but that is fading in importance as the economy

    continues to grow. Large firms may be posting great profits, but the trend

    on Main Street is not supportive of solid hiring and capital spending.

    Labor cost, materials costs, interest rates not the problem. It is still weak

    sales. Five percent reported reduced worker compensation and 15 percent

    reported gains, a seasonally adjusted, a net eight percent reported raising

    worker compensation, down two points. A seasonally adjusted five percent

    plan to raise compensation, up two points and the highest reading since

    November 2008. As labor markets tighten, compensation will rise.

    CREDIT MARKETS

    Overall, 92 percent reported that all their credit needs were met or that they

    were not interested in borrowing. Eight percent reported that not all of

    their credit needs were satisfied, and 51 percent said they did not want a

    loan. Twenty-eight (28) percent of the owners reported that weak salescontinued to be their top business problem. The historically high percent

    of owners who cite weak sales means that, for many owners, investments

    in new equipment or new workers are not likely to pay back. This is a

    major cause of the lack of credit demand observed in financial markets

    along with the deficiency in housing starts, a million units below normal.

    Thirty-one (31) percent of all owners reported borrowing on a regular

    basis, still near the record low. A net 11 percent reported loans harder to

    get compared to their last attempt (asked of regular borrowers only), up a

    point from January.