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NFIB: CAPEX Spending Plans Growing Among Small Businesses

March 14, 2013, 07:06 AM
Filed Under: Economic Commentary

The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism increased 1.9 points in February, to 90.8. While a nice improvement over the last several reports, the Index remains on par with the 2008 average and below the trough of the 1991-92 and 2001-02 recessions. The direction of February’s change is positive, but not indicative of a surge in confidence among small-business owners.

Of the ten Index components, one fell, one remained unchanged and eight improved. Most notably, the gains in capital spending and inventory investment plans were large, but by historical standards the levels remain very low.

Highlights from the Report

  • Credit Markets: Small business demand for credit remained weak in February, given the weak economy. Only 7 percent of owners surveyed reported that all their credit needs were not met, up 1 point but only 3 points above the record low. Twenty-nine percent reported all credit needs met, and 51 percent explicitly said they did not want a loan (64 percent including those who did not answer the question, presumably uninterested in borrowing as well). Only two percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem. Twenty-nine percent of all owners reported borrowing on a regular basis, down 2 points and 1 point shy of the record low of 28 points set in November 2010. A net 7 percent of owners reported that loans are “harder to get” compared to their last attempt (asked of regular borrowers only), unchanged from January, though it is now one in four of those in the market. The net percent of owners expecting credit conditions to ease in the coming months was a seasonally adjusted negative 8 percent (more owners expect that it will be “harder” to arrange financing than easier), 1 point better than in January.
  • Sales: Weak sales is still the top business problem for 18 percent of owners. The net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher nominal sales over the past three months was unchanged in February, at a negative 9 percent. There are still far more owners reporting declining sales than reporting positive sales trends. Seasonally unadjusted, 19 percent of all owners reported higher sales (last three months compared to prior three months, unchanged) and 33 percent reported lower sales (up 1 point). Consumer spending remains weak, especially on services although durable goods sales have recently shown some strength. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes rose 2 points to 1 percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted), 11 points below the 2012 cycle high of a net 12 percent reached in February, 2012. Not seasonally adjusted, 33 percent expect improvement over the next three months (up 8 points) and 24 percent expect declines (down 8 points). While sales trends improved, they are still weak when viewed through historical context.

The report is based on the responses of 870 randomly sampled small businesses in NFIB’s membership, surveyed throughout the month of February.

Download the complete study here.

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