Small Business Optimism Up Slightly in November

A net 59% of small business owners increased prices, the highest level since 1979

NFIB

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index increased slightly in November by 0.2 points to 98.4. Four of the 10 Index components improved, four declined, and two were unchanged. The NFIB Uncertainty Index decreased four points to 63.

“As the end of the year nears, the outlook for business conditions is not encouraging to small business owners as lawmakers propose additional mandates and tax increases,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Owners are also pessimistic as many continue managing challenges like rampant inflation and supply chain disruptions that are impacting their businesses right now.”

Key findings include:

  • Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months decreased one point to a net negative 38%, tied for the 48-year record low reading. This indicator has declined 18 points over the past four months to its lowest reading since November 2012.
  • The net percent of owners raising selling prices increased six points to a net 59% (seasonally adjusted), the highest reading since October 1979.
  • Seasonally adjusted, a net 54% of owners plan price hikes, up three points from October and a 48-year record high reading.
  • Forty-eight percent of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a decrease of one point from October.

As reported in NFIB’s monthly jobs report, small business owners continue to struggle to find workers to fill their open positions. Forty-eight percent (seasonally adjusted) of all small business owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, down one point from October. Overall, 60% of owners reported hiring or trying to hire in November.

Fifty-five percent of owners reported capital outlays in the last six months, down one point from October. Of those owners making expenditures, 39% reported spending on new equipment, 22% acquired vehicles, and 14% improved or expanded facilities. Six percent of owners acquired new buildings or land for expansion and 13% spent money for new fixtures and furniture. Twenty-seven percent of owners plan capital outlays in the next few months, down four points from October.

A net negative 2% of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, up two points from October. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes increased two points to a net 2%.

The net percent of owners reporting inventory increases gained two points to a net 3%. Thirty-five percent of owners report that supply chain disruptions have had a significant impact on their business, 31% report a moderate impact, and 22% report a mild impact. Only 9% of owners report no impact from recent supply chain disruptions. A net 15% of owners viewed current inventory stocks as “too low” in November, up six points from October and a record-high level. A net 10% of owners plan inventory investments in the coming months, up two points from October and historically a very elevated reading.

The net percent of owners raising selling prices increased six points to a net 59% (seasonally adjusted), the highest reading since October 1979. Three percent (unadjusted) reported lower average selling prices and 59% reported higher average prices. Price hikes were the most frequent in wholesale (88% higher, 0% lower), construction (75% higher, 7% lower), and manufacturing (66% higher, 1% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 54% of owners plan price hikes, up three points from October and a 48-year record high reading.

A net 44% (seasonally adjusted) of owners reported raising compensation, unchanged from October and a 48-year record high reading. A net 32% plan to raise compensation in the next three months, also unchanged from October and a record high reading. Ten percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem and 29% said that labor quality was their top business problem.

The frequency of reports of positive profit trends remained at a net negative 17%. Among those owners reporting lower profits, 32% blamed the rise in the cost of materials, 25% blamed weaker sales, 9% cited labor costs, 9% cited the usual seasonal change, 16% cited lower prices, and 2% cited higher taxes or regulatory costs. For owners who report higher profits, 61% credited sales volumes, 11% cited usual seasonal change, and 17% cited higher prices.

Two percent of owners reported that all their borrowing needs were not satisfied, 23% reported all credit needs were met, and 65% said they were not interested in a loan. A net 2% reported their last loan was harder to get than in previous attempts. Zero percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem. A net 2% of owners reported paying a higher rate on their most recent loan.

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are randomly drawn from NFIB’s membership. The report is released on the second Tuesday of each month. The survey was conducted in November 2021.

Click here to view the full report.

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