Decline in optimism disproportionately driven by decline in future expectations
PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. small-business owners are pessimistic post-election, with the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index plunging to -11 in November from 17 in July. This is the most pessimistic that owners have been about their operating environment since July 2010, when the index stood at -28.
The quarterly survey was conducted Nov. 12-16, 2012, with a random sample of 607 small-business owners, representing the fourth quarter of 2012. Small-business owners grew increasingly optimistic throughout the first two quarters of 2012, with the index reaching a high of 23 in May. Prior to the beginning of the recession in 2008, index scores were generally higher than 100. The Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index was initiated in August 2003.
Owners' Future Expectations Sink
The Future Expectations Dimension of the index, in which owners rate their expectations for their business over the next 12 months, fell 19 points to -1 in November. Small-business owners' future expectations are at their lowest level since July 2010, when this dimension stood at -2.
The decline in small-business owners' future expectations is disproportionately responsible for the plunge in the overall index. Owners' expectations for their financial situation, cash flow, capital spending, and hiring over the next 12 months all worsened significantly in November.
One in five small-business owners (21%) expect the number of jobs at their company to decrease over the next 12 months, the highest percentage Gallup has measured to date.
One in three owners (34%) expect their company's capital spending to decrease over the next 12 months -- the highest recorded since July 2010.
Thirty percent of owners expect "poor" cash flow over the next 12 months -- the highest Gallup has measured to date.
Twenty-eight percent of owners expect to be in a "poor" financial position 12 months from now -- the highest Gallup has measured to date.
Views Toward Present Situation Also Deteriorate
Small-business owners' ratings of their current operating conditions also declined in November, with the Present Situation Dimension of the index falling nine points to -10. This suggests that small-business owners as a group have gone from being essentially neutral about their current operating environment to being pessimistic. Owners were also pessimistic about their operating environment a year ago, when this dimension stood at -11.
One of the more stunning aspects of the November survey results is the decline in small-business owners' optimism for the future. As entrepreneurs, small-business owners tend to be optimistic by nature, and relatively more optimistic about the future than the present. Given this context, owners' increasing pessimism toward their future not only reflects uncertainty, but also may imply a weakening economy going forward.
Owners' intent to reduce capital spending in the months ahead is consistent with a slowing economy. Small-business owners appear to be uncertain about their future operating environment, and uncertainty is a legitimate reason for them to hold back on new capital expenditures at this time.
Another troubling finding is the intention of 21% of small-business owners to reduce the number of jobs at their company over the next 12 months. This suggests the potential for a significantly higher unemployment rate in 2013 and all of the accompanying negatives that fewer jobs imply for the economy -- particularly given the importance of small-business hiring to the U.S. job market.
Overall, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey results suggest the U.S. economy is extremely fragile -- and possibly susceptible to another recession. Policymakers need to keep this acute fragility in mind as Washington struggles to avert the "fiscal cliff."
About the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index
Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small-business owners on current and future perceptions of their business financial situations. Visit the Wells Fargo Business Insight Resource Center to access the full report.
Results for the total dataset are based on telephone interviews with 607 small-business owners, conducted Nov. 12-16, 2012. For results based on the total sample of small-business owners, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Sampling is done on a random-digit-dial basis using Dun & Bradstreet sampling of small businesses having $20 million or less of sales and revenues. The data are weighted to be representative of U.S. small businesses within this size range nationwide.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.