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Tuesday, August 10, 2010 2:04 PM

Small Business Trends - Yet Another Disaster

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Neither the treasury market nor small business trends reflect the incessant optimism of the stock market. These will eventually align, when I do not know.

Please considerNFIB Small Business Economic Trends for August 2010.


The Index of Small Business Optimism lost 0.9 points in July following a sharp decline in June. The persistence of Index readings below 90 is unprecedented in survey history. The performance of the economy is mediocre at best, given the extent of the decline over the past two years. Pent up demand should be immense but it is not triggering a rapid pickup in economic activity. Ninety (90) percent of the decline this month resulted from deterioration in the outlook for business conditions in the next six months. Owners have no confidence that economic policies will “fix” the economy.


Ten (10) percent (seasonally adjusted) reported unfilled job openings, up one point from June but historically very weak. Over the next three months, nine percent plan to increase employment (down one point), and 10 percent plan to reduce their workforce (up two points), yielding a seasonally adjusted net two percent of owners planning to create new jobs, up one point from June and positive for the third time in 22 months.


The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past six months fell one point to 45 percent of all firms, one point above the 35 year record low reached most recently in December 2009. The percent of owners planning to make capital expenditures over the next few months fell one point to 18 percent, two points above the 35 year record low. Five percent characterized the current period as a good time to expand facilities, down one point. But a net negative 15 percent expect business conditions to improve over the next six months, down nine points from June and 23 points from May.


The net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher nominal sales in the past three months lost one point, falling to a net negative 16 percent, 18 points better than June 2009 but indicative of very weak customer activity. Widespread price cutting continued to contribute to reports of lower nominal sales. The net percent of owners expecting real sales gained a point over June, rising to a net negative four percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted), quite dismal.


The weak economy continued to put downward pressure on prices. Twelve (12) percent of the owners (down one point) reported raising average selling prices, and 24 percent reported average price reductions (down three points). Seasonally adjusted, the net percent of owners raising prices was a negative 12 percent, a two point increase in the net percent raising prices. Plans to raise prices fell one point to a net seasonally adjusted 10 percent of owners.


Reports of positive profit trends worsened by a point in July, registering a net negative 33 percentage points, 29 points worse than the best expansion reading reached in 2005. The persistence of this imbalance is bad news for the small business community. Profits are important for the support of capital spending and expansion.


Regular borrowing gained three points from last months record low to 32 percent accessing capital markets at least once a quarter. A net 13 percent reported loans harder to get than in their last attempt, unchanged from June. Overall, 91 percent of the owners reported all their credit needs met or they did not want to borrow, up one point. Credit may be harder to get
compared to the bubble period (as it should be) and is always harder to arrange in a recession. But credit availability does not appear to be the cause of slow growth as many allege.


The expiration of the Bush tax program and the implementation of the health care bill represent the two largest tax increases in modern history. Add to that serious talk of a VAT and passing cap and trade. Nothing here to create optimism about the future for business owners or consumers. Top that off with government borrowing of $1.8 trillion last year and $1.5 trillion this year and on into the future, it is no surprise that owners are fearful and pessimistic.

What’s missing from the “debate” is logic. Policies should not violate common sense and logic, if they do, they are misleading and disguising a hidden agenda. Arguing that more government spending and taxes are needed to re-establish optimism, confidence and growth doesn’t meet the common sense test. Saving bankrupt companies to preserve union jobs doesn’t make sense either. The list of these “policy inconsistencies” is long.

Bottom line, owners remain pessimistic and nothing is happening in Washington to provide encouragement. Confidence is lost.
The article sports numerous charts of trends of all the individual components. It's well worth a look.

I happen to agree with their commentary that Obama administration policies are compounding the already numerous structural underpinnings that are amazingly poor in and of themselves.

From Fooled by Stimulus - Structural Problems Still Intact.
Problems Many, Solutions Nonexistent

  • Tide of Debt: Consumers are swimming against a tide of debt with no way to pay it back.
  • Demographics: Boomers are heading into retirement scared half to death because they did not save enough.
  • Jobs: There is no source of jobs
  • Wages: Global wage arbitrage
  • Attitude Changes: a secular shift in the attitudes of consumers towards housing and risk taking is underway.
  • The Fed is powerless to change attitudes.
It is going to be extremely difficult to counteract all of the structural problems in place.

Poor policy decisions compound the problems facing small business owners. And unless small business conditions improve, business hiring plans are not going anywhere no matter how much the Fed wishes, hopes, fires bazookas, or quantitative eases.

For more on the quantitative easing debate, please see

Those expecting quantitative easing to cause massive inflation or to do much of anything at all simply are not thinking clearly.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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