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Economy in Brief

U.S. Small Business Optimism Eases Further
by Tom Moeller  January 8, 2019

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reported that its Small Business Optimism Index slipped to 104.4 during December, down for the fourth straight month. During all of 2018, optimism rose 1.7%, on average, after a 10.0% improvement in 2017.

Sixteen percent of respondents expected the economy to improve, down from 33% during October. A greatly lessened 29% thought that now was a good time to expand the business. It was 34% in August. A lessened 23% expected higher real sales.

Potential pricing power weakened. A lessened 25% of firms were planning to raise prices, down from November's 29% ten-year high. Current pricing pressure improved slightly. A net 17% of firms were raising average selling prices, up  m/m, but below the 19% May high.

Labor market readings were mixed m/m. The 23% of respondents which planned to increase employment remained down from the record 26% in August. An increased 54% were finding few or no qualified candidates for job openings, up from 44% twelve months earlier.

Pressure to raise worker compensation intensified. A near-record 24% of firms were planning to raise compensation and a near-record 35% were doing so now.

Credit remained fairly easy to get. Five percent of businesses reported difficulties in obtaining financing, up from a two percent June low.

The small business survey inquires about problems facing small business. The most pressing problem in December was the quality of labor. Twenty-three percent reported problems versus 18% during all of 2017. A greatly lessened 13% indicated that taxes were the largest problem, down from a December 2014 high of 27%. Government requirements were worrisome to a significantly lessened 14% of respondents, below the 22% in 2015. Insurance costs/availability worried an increased 13%. Competition from large businesses rose to ten percent as the biggest problem. A greatly increased seven percent of firms reported the cost of labor as the most significant problem. Poor sales rose to nine  percent, up from five percent in September. Financial & interest rate problems worried a higher three percent of respondents. A minimal one percent reported inflation as the biggest problem.

Roughly 24 million small businesses exist in the U.S. and they create 80% of all new jobs. The index is based 1986=100. 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 % of Firms) Dec Nov Oct Dec'17 2018 2017 2016
Small Business Optimism Index (1986=100) 104.4 104.8 107.4 104.9 106.7 104.9 95.3
Firms Expecting Economy to Improve 16 22 33 37 32 39 -5
Firms Expecting Higher Real Sales 23 24 28 28 26 23 5
Firms Reporting Now Is a Good Time to Expand the Business 24 29 30 27 30 23 10
Firms Planning to Increase Employment 23 22 22 20 21 18 11
Firms With Few or No Qualified Applicants for Job Openings (%) 54 53 53 54 51 49 46
Firms Reporting That Credit Was Harder to Get 5 5 4 3 4 4 5
Firms Raising Average Selling Prices 17 16 16 8 15 7 0
Firms Raising Worker Compensation 35 34 34 27 33 27 24
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