Small businesses have never felt worse about the future: Morning Brief

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Today’s newsletter is by Myles Udland, senior markets editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland and on LinkedIn.

Small business owners think the economy stinks right now.

In a report out Tuesday morning, the National Federation of Independent Businesses revealed confidence among small businesses polled by the trade group was the worst they’ve found in the 48-year history of the survey.

Last month, business owners expecting better conditions over the next six months fell to a net negative 61%. Said another way, the difference between those expecting better or and those expecting worse conditions was -61%.

Not great!

Small business optimism sank in June as the outlook for the economy fell to the lowest in at least 48 years. (Source: Oxford Economics)

The NFIB’s headline optimism reading for June came in at 89.5, the lowest since 2013.

Digging into the report’s details, however, and we see another version of the same story being told across the business and corporate world right now — everything seems terrible, but our actions suggest otherwise.

Especially when it comes to hiring.

“It’s a mixed picture on Main Street,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist at the NFIB. “Housing is still booming (but slowing) and restaurant sales continue to trend higher. Owners can’t find enough workers, not characteristic of a recession where unemployment is high, not low.”

Last week, the June jobs report showed hiring demand remains robust in the U.S. economy, with some going so far as to say this report made a “mockery” of calls that the economy is already in recession.

And in broad strokes, the NFIB report affirms this view. “Job openings and hiring plans are at record levels,” Dunkelberg added. “The percent of owners raising compensation is high, too. The percent of owners raising selling prices is historically high. Doesn’t sound like a recession, at least from the employment side.”

Where things look more recessionary, once again, is inflation.

Some 34% of small business owners said inflation is the biggest problem facing their business today, the most since the fourth quarter of 1980.

And inflation data due out Wednesday isn’t going to be pretty.

Economists expect data for June will show the consumer price index rose 8.8% last month, the most since December 1981 and a new high in inflation for the pandemic-induced cycle. With the White House running interference on this data a day before its release, one wonders if this consensus estimate isn’t dour enough.

Moreover, just 3% of small business owners think now is a good time to expand their business.

And while demand for labor may serve as a positive macro signal, the current frictions in the labor market only further pressure small businesses and add to frustrations in the sector.

In a note to clients on Tuesday, Mahir Rasheed, U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, noted: “Exacerbating the toll of sharp inflation pressures is a labor supply environment that has failed to make significant progress. With 50% of owners looking to fill current job openings, 94% of those hiring reported few or no qualified applicants.”

Of course, filling open roles with qualified applicants can often be achieved by offering higher wages or meeting worker requests like partial or full-time remote work. Though when hardly any businesses view the present as a good time to expand, making the case for more generous benefits to fill needs is a tough sell.

“These indicators make a very strong case for a decline in economic activity. How long and how severe is now the question,” Dunkelberg said. “However this plays out, small business owners are bracing for challenging times ahead.”

What to Watch Today

Economic calendar

  • 7:00 a.m. ET: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended July 8 (-5.4% during prior week)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Consumer Price Index, month-over-month, June (1.1% expected, 1.0% during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: CPI Excluding Food and Energy, month-over-month, June (0.5% expected, 0.6% during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Consumer Price Index, year-over-year, June (8.8% expected, 8.6% during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: CPI Excluding Food and Energy, year-over-year, June (5.7% expected, 6.0% during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: CPI Index NSA, June (295.716 expected, 292.296 during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: CPI Core Index SA, June (294.451 expected, 292.289 during prior month)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Real Average Hourly Earnings, year-over-year, June (-3.0% during prior month, revised to 2.9%)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Real Average Weekly Earnings, year-over-year, June (-3.9% during prior month, revised to 4.0%)

  • 2:00 p.m. ET: Monthly Budget Statement (-$75.0 billion expected, -$174.2 billion during prior month)

  • 2:00 p.m. ET: Federal Reserve Releases Beige Book

Earnings

Before Market Open:

  • Fastenal (FAST) is expected to report adjusted earnings of 50 cents per share on revenue of $1.78 billion

  • Delta Air Lines (DAL) is expected to report adjusted earnings of $1.64 per share on revenue of $12.33 billion

After Market Close:

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Christopher Lewis

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