NFIB Small Business Survey Increases In March

The latest issue of the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends came out this morning. The headline number for March came in at 98.2, up 2.4 from the previous month. The index is at the 38th percentile in this series.

Here is an excerpt from the opening summary of the news release.

“Main Street is doing better as state and local restrictions are eased, but finding qualified labor is a critical issue for small businesses nationwide,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Small business owners are competing with the pandemic and increased unemployment benefits that are keeping some workers out of the labor force. However, owners remain determined to hire workers and grow their business.”

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 and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Compare, for example, the relative resilience of the index during the 2000-2003 collapse of the Tech Bubble with the far weaker readings following the Great Recession that ended in June 2009 and today's figures.

NFIB Optimism Index

Here is a closer look at the indicator since the turn of the century.

NFIB Optimism Index Since 2000

The average monthly change in this indicator is 1.3 points. To smooth out the noise of volatility, here is a 3-month moving average of the Optimism Index along with the monthly values, shown as dots.

NFIB Optimism Index Moving Average

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 it is plotted on a separate axis to give a better comparison of the two series from the common baseline of 100.

NFIB Optimism and Consumer Confidence

These two measures of mood have been highly correlated since the early days of the Great Recession. The two diverged after their previous interim peaks, but have recently resumed their correlation. A decline in Small Business Sentiment was a long leading indicator for the previous two recessions (but clearly not for the current recession).

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