Small Business Optimism Skyrockets: December 2016 Report (Small Business Economic Trends - NFIB)

Small Business Optimism Skyrocketed in December Small business optimism rocketed to its highest level since 2004, with a stratospheric 38-point jump in the number of owners who expect better business conditions, according to the monthly National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Index of Small Business Optimism, released today.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this in a long time,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “Small business is ready for a breakout, and that can only mean very good things for the U.S. economy.”

The Index reached 105.8, an increase of 7.4 points. Leading the charge was “Expect Better Business Conditions,” which shot up from a net 12 percent in November to a net 50 percent last month.

“Business owners who expect better business conditions accounted for 48 percent of the overall increase,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “The December results confirm the sharp increase that we reported immediately after the election.”

The other two big movers in the survey, “Sales Expectations” and “Good Time to Expand,” jumped by 20 percentage points and 12 percentage points, respectively.

“This is the second consecutive month in which small business owners reported a much brighter outlook for the economy and higher expectations for their businesses,” said Dunkelberg. “In this month’s report, we are also finding evidence that higher optimism is leading to increased business activity, such as capital investment.”

Sixty-three percent of respondents made capital outlays, an eight-point increase over November. Also, the net percent of owners reporting inventory gains increased six points.

“Business owners are feeling better about taking risks and making investments,” said Duggan. “Optimism is the main ingredient for economic expansion. We’ll be watching this trend carefully over the next few months.”

Despite sharply higher optimism, hiring activity remained flat in December. Job creation increased by 0.01 workers per firm and job openings dropped two points. According to the NFIB Jobs report, released last week, finding qualified workers remains a persistent problem for small business owners.

“The labor market is getting tighter,” said Dunkelberg. “That’s good news for workers because they can command higher compensation, but many small business owners aren’t yet confident enough to raise prices to offset the higher labor costs. Owners are still in a pinch, but the overall picture for December was very positive.”

INVENTORIES AND SALES

The net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher nominal sales in the past three months compared to the prior three months improved 1 percentage point to a net negative 7 percent. The surge in consumer optimism did not produce a noticeable improvement in sales at small businesses, perhaps because of the growth of internet sales which might detract from retail holiday business.

Seasonally adjusted, the net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes rose 20 points, after a 10 point rise in November, to a net 31 percent of owners, the highest reading since October 2005 with a reading of 40 percent. The reduction of “policy anxiety” is surely responsible for some of the remarkable improvements in sales expectations and rising consumer sentiment. The expectation of important cost relief from deregulation and tax reform is strong among small business owners and consumers, all of which is yet to be accomplished and has a hard political road to travel. But the data indicate that business owners are indeed very optimistic.

The net percent of owners reporting inventory gains gained 6 points to a net 3 percent (seasonally adjusted), a rather strong report, as long as those inventories are built to meet rising consumer demand and not a result of weakening sales.

The net percent of owners viewing current inventory stocks as “too low” improved 1 point to a net negative 3 percent, still more feeling stocks are too high than too low. The surge in expected sales gains should absorb some of these “excess stocks”. The net percent of owners planning to add to inventory improved was unchanged a net 4 percent, a good number reflecting expected stronger demand.

CAPITAL SPENDING

Sixty-three percent reported capital outlays, up 8 points from November and the highest reading since January 2013. Reports of expenditures tend to rise late in the year reflecting tax driven outlays (expensing), but this is a solid number even if weak compared to other expansions and is the second highest reading in the recovery. Of those making expenditures, 46 percent reported spending on new equipment (up 10 points), 23 percent acquired vehicles (down 2 points), and 17 percent improved or expanded facilities (up 2 points). Six percent acquired new buildings or land for expansion (up 1 point) and 13 percent spent money for new fixtures and furniture (unchanged). Overall, a nice pickup in spending.

The percent of owners planning capital outlays in the next 3 to 6 months jumped 5 points to 29 percent, the highest reading since December 2007, the peak of the last expansion but well below the high readings in the mid-90s of 40 percent. Seasonally adjusted, the net percent expecting better business conditions rose 38 percentage points to a net 50 percent, adding to the19 point gain in November. The seasonally adjusted net percent expecting higher real sales rose 20 points to 31 percent of all owners, after a 10 point gain in November. This optimism appears to be transitioning into strong spending plans as well as increases in actual outlays, a component of growth that was missing in the recovery.

Source: NFIB - http://www.nfib.com/surveys/small-business-economic-trends/