Updated: Apr 15, 2020
The September NFIB Small Business Optimism Index has been released, and while there are no signs of a recession in the immediate future, the economy is definitely showing signs of cooling. The September index declined 1.3 points to 101.8, which is the third drop in four months and the lowest level since March. According to NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan, "As small business owners continue to invest, expand, and try to hire, they're doing so with less gusto than they did earlier in the year, thanks to the mixed signals they're receiving from policymakers and politicians. All indications are that owners are eager to do more, but they're uncertain about what the future holds and can't find workers to fill the jobs they have open." Results from the business owners surveyed show the Uncertainty Index has increased by 6% over the last several months, and the percentage of business owners expecting the economy to improve has dropped 11% since July. Only 16% are expecting sales to rise in the coming months, which on the surface seems odd given the upcoming holiday season. Other key measures from the index show mixed results. The month-over-month job creation measure dropped by three points to 17%, capital spending plans decreased by only a point to 27%, and inventory investment remained flat at 2%. 23% indicated that hiring qualified workers remains a big issue for small businesses as 35% of the owners reported job openings they couldn't fill. It is worth noting that a decline in small business sentiment has historically been a long leading indicator for a recession. Determining how predictive these moves can be for the future of the larger economy is a challenge, but if small businesses are still trying to fill job openings, main street is not showing signs of a pending downturn. Perhaps cautious optimism is a way to look at what has entered the fray.