WORKING MORE, CAUTIOUSLY ADDING STAFF
A couple of new reports show that American small business owners have a generally optimistic view of the U.S. economy for this year—and for how their own businesses are going to do as well.
The annual Small Business Economic Survey by Union Bank, based in San Francisco, found that nearly a third of entrepreneurs hired staff in 2014 and significantly fewer reported layoffs. For the first time since 2012, the survey found that the majority of small business owners believe the overall economy is heading in the right direction, with an all-time high of 90% believing their business is headed in the right direction.
61% of the business owners worked longer hours last year due to increased business, up six points from 2013. But they are still cautious. Most of the business owners are planning to maintain the same capital spending and staffing levels this year as in 2014. 82% plan to keep staffing levels flat this year.
Among the industries surveyed, 100% of owners from the personal services sector (auto repair, salons, dry cleaning, etc.) believe their business is headed in the right direction (up 10 points); more owners from this sector also expressed optimism about the direction of the national economy (70%, up 42 points). Retail store owners expressed the most pessimism about the economy—half believe the national economy is heading in the wrong direction. Strangely, though, 32% of small retailers added staff in 2014, which was more than the 30% tally overall.
Since Union Bank is a major U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lender, the survey looked closely at small business owners’ credit needs. While the rate of business owners (13%) who applied for loans or access to credit in 2014 dropped 6 points from 2013, loan approval rates held fairly steady with slightly fewer owners (76%, down 2 points) receiving loan approvals in 2014.
In 2014, more minority business owners (25%) applied for a loan or access to credit compared with respondents overall (13%). Of those who applied, more minority business owners (81%) were approved compared with 76% overall. Among those denied for loans, significantly more owners overall (58%) were able to find alternative financing in 2014 (up 20 points) than the previous year.
A separate survey by Barlow Research, a financial industry research company based in Minneapolis, also found increased optimism among both small- and middle-market businesses about both the future condition of their business and the U.S. economy. “However, optimistic expectations still haven’t translated into additional credit demand,” noted Ray Johns, Managing Partner, Barlow Research.
The percentage of small businesses and middle market companies that applied for additional credit diverged in the first quarter of 2015, with fewer small businesses and more middle-market companies applying for additional credit. Much of the decrease in demand for additional credit among small business can be linked to the increased percentage of small businesses that say they have no current need for credit or do not borrow.