Small businesses remain under pressure. According to the recent NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) Small Business Optimism Index, there was a half a point decrease in September to 90.8.
This September’s reading marks the 21st consecutive month below the 49-year average of 98. Twenty-three percent of business owners reported that inflation was their single most important problem in operating their business, unchanged from last month and tied with labor quality as the top concern.
“Owners remain pessimistic about future business conditions, which has contributed to the low optimism they have regarding the economy,” said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB Chief Economist. “Sales growth among small businesses have slowed and the bottom line is being squeezed, leaving owners few options beyond raising selling prices for financial relief.”
Other key survey findings include:
The percentage of small business owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months deteriorated six points from August to a net negative 43 percent seasonally adjusted, however, this is 18 percentage points better than last June’s reading of net negative 61 percent and at recession levels.
The net percent of owners raising average selling prices increased two points to a net 29 percent seasonally adjusted, still a very inflationary level.
The net percent of owners who expect real sales volume to be higher increased one point from August to a net negative 13 percent (seasonally adjusted), still a very dismal posture.
Fifty-seven percent of business owners reported capital outlays in the last six months. Of those making capital expenditures (Capex), 41 percent reported spending on new equipment, 22 percent acquired vehicles, and 17 percent improved or expanded facilities. Twelve percent of owners spent money on new fixtures and furniture and 7 percent acquired new buildings or land for expansion. Twenty-four percent of owners plan capital outlays in the next few months.
A net negative 8 percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, up six points from August’s lowest reading since August 2020. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes improved one point to a net negative 13 percent.
The net percent of owners reporting inventory gains improved four points to a net negative 3 percent. Not seasonally adjusted, 13 percent reported increases in stocks and 15 percent reported reductions. A net negative 4 percent of owners viewed current inventory stocks as “too low” in September, so more now have surplus stocks. By industry, shortages are reported most frequently in the transportation (15 percent), construction (9 percent), retail (9 percent), and services (8 percent) sectors. A net negative 1 percent of owners plan inventory investment in the coming months, down one point from August.
The net percent of owners raising average selling prices increased two points from August to a net 29 percent seasonally adjusted. Twenty-three percent of owners reported that inflation was their single most important problem in operating their business, unchanged from last month and tied with labor quality as the top problem.
Unadjusted, 13 percent of owners reported lower average selling prices and 41 percent reported higher average prices. Price hikes were the most frequent in finance due to rising interest rates (75 percent higher, 3 percent lower), construction (53 percent higher, 6 percent lower), retail (49 percent higher, 11 percent lower), services (33 percent higher, 12 percent lower), and wholesale (33 percent higher, 10 percent lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 30% plan price hikes.
Seasonally adjusted, a net 36 percent reported raising compensation in September. A seasonally adjusted net 23 percent plan to raise compensation in the next three months, down three points from August. Nine percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem, up one point from August. Twenty-three percent said that labor quality was their top business problem, down one point.
The frequency of reports of positive profit trends was a net negative 24 percent, up one point from August. Among owners reporting lower profits, 29 percent blamed weaker sales, 20 percent blamed the rise in the cost of materials, 15 percent cited labor costs, 8 percent cited lower prices, 7 percent cited the usual seasonal change, and 6 percent cited higher taxes or regulatory costs. For owners reporting higher profits, 55 percent credited sales volumes, 22 percent cited usual seasonal change, and 9 percent cited higher selling prices.
Two percent of owners reported that all their borrowing needs were not satisfied. Twenty-three percent reported all credit needs met and 65 percent said they were not interested in a loan. A net 8 percent reported that their last loan was harder to get than in previous attempts.
Four percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem. A net 26 percent of owners reported paying a higher rate on their most recent loan.
According to NFIB’s jobs report, 43 percent (seasonally adjusted) of all small business owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up three points from August. Owners’ plans to fill open positions remain elevated, with a seasonally adjusted net 18 percent planning to create new jobs in the next three months, with a net 23 percent who plan to raise compensation in the next three months, down three points from August.
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