WASHINGTON — The MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index in March dropped slightly this quarter from 62.1 to 60 as small-business owners’ outlook on the national economy weakened.
One in five (20%) small-business owners believe the U.S. economy is in good health, down from 27% last quarter. Also contributing to the drop, fewer small businesses say they plan to increase investment over the next year (38% vs. 47% last quarter).
Despite small-business owners seeing a weak economy, a majority (63%) say their business is in good health and 64% are comfortable with their cash flow — both stable over the last couple of quarters. Seven in 10 (69%) say they have retained the same number of employees over the past year and 19% report increasing staff over the same period.
“This quarter, small businesses’ concerns over inflation are soaring and their view of the broader economy is darkening, though they still report that their own businesses are in good health,” says Tom Sullivan, vice president of small-business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Small-business owners are pulling back a bit on spending as they see storm clouds in the economy appearing ahead.”
INFLATION STILL TOP CHALLENGE
The Chamber reported that this is the fifth consecutive quarter where inflation has topped the list of challenges for small-business owners. A record high of 54% of small businesses now say inflation is a top challenge. Top concerns include:
- Inflation costs — 54%
- Revenue — 22%
- Supply chain issues — 21%
- Interest rates rising — 16%
- Employee retention — 11%
- Affording healthcare/benefits — 10%
This quarter’s survey also asked small-business owners about how they are accessing capital and navigating healthcare benefits for employees. Small-business owners cite various barriers to securing financing, including a time-consuming application process (52%), not having enough information on available sources of capital (46%), and not having enough revenue or assets to qualify for a loan (46%).
When it comes to providing healthcare for employees, 85% of small-business owners believe offering healthcare helps attract and retain employees. However, the majority (65%) say navigating healthcare options is time-consuming, and a similar share (62%) believe the cost of healthcare crowds out other priorities for their business.
“Despite anticipating potential economic headwinds in the coming months, it is encouraging to see that the majority of small-business owners say their business is in good health,” says Cynthia Smith, senior vice president, Regional Business at MetLife. “It is also promising to see the majority have been able to retain and attract talent. Small-business owners have remained focused and determined, so it is not surprising to see them persevering in uncertain times.”
- Views of local economy steady. Perceptions of local economies have remained stable over the last three quarters, following a decline between Q2 and Q3 2022. Twenty-nine percent of small businesses said their local economy was good this quarter.
- Access to capital has declined in the last five years. About half (49%) of small-business owners say their current access to capital or loans is good, slightly lower than those who said the same in Q2 2022 (54%), and significantly lower than in Q2 2017 (67%).
- Small businesses with less than five employees are more likely to turn to personal savings to fund their businesses. Three-quarters of small businesses with fewer than five employees report that they rely on personal savings to finance their business,
The MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index is part of a multi-year collaboration. The quarterly Index, an online survey of approximately 750 small-business owners and decision-makers, is designed to take the temperature of the sector, see where small-business owners are confident, and where they are experiencing challenges. There is a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points for all respondents.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].