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Small business CEOs confident in own firms, not economy, according to WSJ/Vistage March 2019 survey

WSJ/Vistage CEO Confidence Index falls 21% in one year


Small business CEOs are increasingly concerned about the outlook for the U.S. economy. Confidence in economy fell 29 points in one year, according to March WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO survey. Despite the drop in confidence, small business CEOs indicate that prospects for their own firms remain remarkably strong.

The WSJ/Vistage Small Business Confidence Index for March was 98.4, a slight decline from 99.8 last month and a larger drop from 112.6 last March. The decline was primarily due to CEOs’ perceptions of a weakening economy; just 31% of CEOs cited recent improvements to the economy, down 29 points from the 60% recorded last March.

While all factors measured in the survey — including hiring and investment plans as well as anticipated revenue and profit growth — are less positive than last year, the falloff in those areas was relatively minor compared with CEOs’ assessment of the U.S. economy. The survey, conducted March 4-11, captured input from 887 leaders of small businesses.

Pricing pressures mount

Dr. Richard Curtin, an economist from the University of Michigan, says the data show upward price pressures. “The data indicate slower employment growth and a higher inflation rate during the year ahead,” Curtain says. About 65% of small business CEOs reported price increases for inputs, which is likely directly related to planned price increases indicated by 50% of CEOs. These increases may be in addition to the price increases made by 48% of CEOs in the past year.

“Tariffs, higher salaries and higher interest rates have all contributed to upward price pressures,” Curtain explains. Overall, despite declining confidence in the economy, the data indicates that “small firms may only anticipate small declines in the pace of economic growth moving forward, meaning they only need to make minor adjustments in their businesses.”

Download the March report for more insights on the sentiments of small business CEOs, including:
• Opinions about the recent and future performance of the U.S. economy
• Revenue and profitability expectations
• Expansion plans for hiring and investments
• Price pressures felt by small businesses
• Impact of the new tax law on small businesses

Download the full infographic

About the WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey

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