Index: Small business owners slightly more upbeat

Juanita Duggan
Juanita Duggan
William Dunkelberg
William Dunkelberg

A monthly measure of optimism among small business owners has edged up on slightly more upbeat expectations for increased hiring and expanding operations.

“Owners are growing their businesses and expect that they can sell more if they can produce more with additional employees,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Investment spending has been solid for the past two years, and owners are choosing to invest in their work force as well by creating new jobs and raising wages.”

Juanita Duggan, president and chief executive officer of the NFIB, said the results reflect favorable conditions. “Small business owners continue to create jobs, expand their operations and are enjoying strong sales.”

The NFIB reported its Small Business Optimism Index rose a tenth of a point to 101.8 in March, remaining near the historical high for the nearly 46-year-old index.

The NFIB bases the index on the results of monthly surveys of members of the small business advocacy group, most of them small business owners.

For March, four of 10 components of the index advanced, three retreated and three remained unchanged.

A net 18 percent of small business owners responding to the survey upon which the March index was based plan to increase staffing, up two points from February.

A net 39 percent of owners reported hard-to-fill job openings, up two points to match the record high for the index. In addition, 21 percent of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their single most important problem, ahead of taxes and government regulations.

A net 11 percent of owners expect the economy to improve, unchanged from last month.

A net 27 percent of owners plan capital outlays in coming months, also unchanged. A net 23 percent said they consider now a good time to expand, up a point.

However, the proportion of owners planning to increase inventories fell two points to a net negative 1 percent. At net negative 6 percent, more owners consider existing inventories too high rather than too low.

A net 16 percent of owners expect increasing sales, steady from last month. But at a net negative 8 percent, more owners reported lower earnings than higher earnings.