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US Small Business Optimism Index Reaches Highest Level in 2024

US’ small business optimism Index climbed to its highest level of the year in June, reaching 91.5, a one-point increase from May, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). The last time the index was higher was in December 2023 when it reached 91.9. Despite this increase, the index has remained below the historical average of 98 for 30 consecutive months. Inflation continues to be the top concern for small businesses, with 21 per cent of owners citing it as their single most important problem, down one point from May.

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In NFIB’s monthly jobs report, a seasonally adjusted 37 per cent of small business owners reported job openings they could not fill, down five points from May. Among the 60 per cent of owners who were hiring or trying to hire in June, 85 per cent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

Sales figures showed a net negative 12 per cent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reported higher nominal sales in the past three months. The net percentage of owners expecting higher real sales volumes remained unchanged at a net negative 13 per cent (seasonally adjusted), as per NFIB.

Inventory levels saw a slight improvement, with the net percentage of owners reporting inventory gains rising four points to a net negative 3 per cent. Not seasonally adjusted, 17 per cent reported increases in stocks, while 16 per cent reported reductions. Additionally, a net negative 2 per cent (seasonally adjusted) of owners viewed current inventory stocks as ‘too low’ in June, up six points from May, marking the lowest reading since October 1981. A net negative 2 per cent (seasonally adjusted) of owners plan inventory investment in the coming months, up four points from May.

Pricing trends indicated that the net percentage of owners raising average selling prices rose by two points from May to a net 27 per cent (seasonally adjusted). Unadjusted, 12 per cent reported lower average selling prices, while 41 per cent reported higher prices. Price hikes were most frequent in the retail (49 per cent higher, 8 per cent lower) and wholesale (46 per cent higher, 17 per cent lower) sectors. Seasonally adjusted, a net 26 per cent plan price hikes in June.

Compensation trends showed that a seasonally adjusted net 38 per cent of owners reported raising compensation, up one point from May. A seasonally adjusted net 22 per cent plan to raise compensation in the next three months, up four points from May. Labour costs remain a significant issue, with 11 per cent of owners citing it as their top business problem, up one point from May and just two points below the highest reading of 13 per cent reached in December 2021. Nineteen per cent said that labour quality was their top business problem, making it the second most important issue after inflation.

Profit trends remain concerning, with the frequency of reports of positive profit trends at a net negative 29 per cent (seasonally adjusted), one point better than May but still very poor. Among owners reporting lower profits, 34 per cent blamed weaker sales, 17 per cent cited rising material costs, 12 per cent blamed labour costs, and 9 per cent cited lower selling prices. For owners reporting higher profits, 37 per cent credited sales volumes, 27 per cent cited usual seasonal changes, and 20 per cent cited higher selling prices.

“Main Street remains pessimistic about the economy for the balance of the year,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Increasing compensation costs has led to higher prices all around. Meanwhile, no relief from inflation is in sight for small business owners as they prepare for the uncertain months ahead.”

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US’ small business optimism index rose to 91.5 in June, its highest in 2024, yet remains below the historical average of 98.

Inflation remains the top concern for 21 per cent of owners.

Job openings, sales expectations, and profit trends show negative trends.

Inventory and compensation levels slightly improved.

Labour cost and quality are significant issues.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (DP)

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