The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said that small business sentiment edged lower in September. The Small Business Optimism Index dropped from 96.1 in August to 95.3 in September. Still, small business owners’ sentiment has largely improved after waning in the first quarter of 2014, when the index bottomed out at 91.4 in February. Nonetheless, after peaking at 96.6 in May (its highest level since September 2007), the index has eased somewhat. This suggests that small firms continue to have anxieties about economic growth despite recent progress. Moreover, the index remains below 100 – a level that would indicate health in the small business sector.
Indeed, many of the underlying data points were softer in September. For instance, the net percentage of respondents expecting sales to be higher in the next three months has fallen from 15 percent in May to 5 percent in September. Along those lines, the net percentage planning to hire more workers in the next three months has declined from 13 percent in July (a seven-year high) to 9 percent in September. In addition, capital spending plans over the next three to six months also dropped slightly, down from 27 percent in August to 22 percent in September.
Interestingly, the percentage of small business owners saying that the next three months were a “good time to expand” improved, up from 9 percent in August to 13 percent in September (its highest level since December 2007, the first month of the recession). As such, these data definitely have a nuanced perspective, showing both improvements in the economy and persistent challenges. Economic worries and the political climate were the main reasons noted for those suggesting that it was not a good time for expansion. Regulations were the “single most important problem,” cited by 22 percent of respondents. This was followed by taxes (21 percent) and poor sales (14 percent).
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.