The latest issue of the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends is out today (see report). The July update for June came in at 91.2, which is the lowest reading since October of 2011. The indicator has slipped back to a level first seen three months into the last recession.
Here is the opening summary of the report:
The Index of Small Business Optimism declined 3 points in June, falling to 91.4. The decline is significant, relinquished the gains achieved earlier this year and is a clear indication of slow growth. Only one of the 10 Index components improved, expected credit conditions. Nearly one-quarter of owners cite weak sales as their most important business problem (23%), followed by taxes (21%) and unreasonable regulations and red tape (19%).
The first chart below highlights the 1986 baseline level of 100 and includes some labels to help us visualize that dramatic change in small-business sentiment that accompanied the Great Financial Crisis. Compare, for example the relative resilience of the index during the 2000-2003 collapse of the Tech Bubble with the far weaker readings of the past three years. The NBER declared June 2009 as the official end of the last recession.
The conclusion to this month's "Commentary" section helps us put today's number in the larger economic and political context:
|The economy definitely slowed mid-year, not a huge recession threat but slower than earlier in the year. Job growth will be far short of that needed to reduce the unemployment rate unless lots of unemployed leave the labor force. NFIB members didn’t add a lot of jobs and don’t plan to in the coming months. Capital spending and inventory investment also weakened. Expectations for improvements in sales and business conditions faded, so no reason to hire additional workers or buy new inventory. "Political uncertainty" remained historically high as the reason why the current period is not a good time to expand. All in all, this month's survey was a real economic downer.|
Business Optimism and Consumer Confidence
The next chart is an overlay of the Business Optimism Index and the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index. The consumer measure is the more volatile of the two, so I've plotted it on a separate axis to give a better comparison of the volatility from the common baseline of 100.
With the latest NFIB data, we see that the mood of small businesses is again matching the decline seen in the recent consumer confidence updates.