Small Business Owners Most Optimistic Since 2008

Wells Fargo/Gallup survey shows small business owners expect to increase hiring and capital spending; anticipate an improved financial situation in 2015

SAN FRANCISCO--()--Small business owners are the most optimistic they have been in more than six years, and business owners are feeling the most upbeat about the year ahead since the start of the Great Recession, according to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index.

“As we move into 2015, a challenge we’re faced with is finding qualified staff that can stay with us as we grow the business and expand into new markets”

In a quarterly small business survey, conducted Nov. 10-14, the overall Small Business Index score increased significantly to positive 58 (+58) in November, up from a positive 49 (+49) in July 2014 and up 34 points from a year ago. While below pre-recession levels, the score, which measures small business optimism, is the highest it has been since January 2008 when it was positive 83 (+83).

The future expectations score is helping drive the rise in optimism. This score increased to positive 37 (+37) in November up from positive 17 (+17) a year ago. The present situation – how business owners rate current conditions for their businesses – also continues to steadily climb, having increased to positive 21 (+21), up from positive 7 (+7) in fourth quarter of 2013.

Several factors that contributed to this quarter’s considerable improvement include:

  • Small business owners are feeling better about their company’s financial situation for the year ahead with 71 percent expecting their overall financial situation to be very or somewhat good over the next 12 months, up from 66 percent in the third quarter of 2014.
  • Hiring is expected to increase over the next 12 months, with 26 percent of small business owners reporting they plan to increase the number of jobs at their companies a little or a lot, up from 20 percent in July 2014.
  • More business owners plan to make investments in their businesses over the next 12 months as 29 percent expect to increase the amount of money they allocate for capital spending compared to 25 percent in the prior quarter.
  • Revenue forecasts remain positive over the next 12 months with 51 percent of small business owners saying they expect their company’s revenues to increase a little or a lot, and just 14 percent expecting a decrease.

“The latest Index scores show that small business owners are becoming more confident about the future,” said Lisa Stevens, Head of Regional Banking Sales and Marketing and Small Business and Regional Bank Executive for the Pacific Midwest Region at Wells Fargo. “With steady improvements in the operating environment and the economy, small businesses in general are making great strides, are in a better financial position and are seeing more opportunities to invest in their businesses for the long-term. Positive trends in hiring and stronger cash flows show us that small businesses are healthier and are on much more solid footing as they look toward 2015.”

Small Business 2015 Outlook

Small business owners report feeling significantly more positive than at this same time in recent years. In the current survey, 31 percent of business owners report that they expect their operating environment to be better in 2015 than it was in 2014, compared to 23 percent a year ago.

While the survey also finds that small business owners still have concerns about key issues that could impact their business, these concerns are less pronounced than a year ago. On most items of potential concern, the percentage of owners saying they are “very worried” is down compared to three years ago:

  • Twenty-two percent of small business owners report being very worried or moderately worried about not being able to pay their employees, compared to 32 percent in 2011.
  • Seven percent of small business owners say they are very worried about going out of business, down from 15 percent in 2011.
  • When asked about paying bills, just 5 percent of those surveyed are very worried about making minimum credit card payments, compared to 12 percent in 2011, and 8 percent are very worried about not being able to pay household bills, versus 17 percent in 2011.

Challenges

When business owners were asked to identify the most important challenge facing their business, 14 percent cited attracting customers and new business as a top concern. Other top concerns decreased in the latest survey, including government regulations (9 percent, down from 11 percent) and financial stability of their business (3 percent, down from 11 percent).

“As we move into 2015, a challenge we’re faced with is finding qualified staff that can stay with us as we grow the business and expand into new markets,” said Katey Taylor, co-owner of Albuquerque-based Perfit Yoga Wear. “With plans for at least one new location, we will be doubling the number of staff that we currently have, and also promoting some of our existing team members while offering competitive benefits such as health insurance.”

Small Business and Health Insurance

In the latest survey, business owners were also asked about the cost of health insurance and healthcare, and the anticipated impact on their businesses over the next year.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Eighty-eight percent of small business owners currently have health insurance for themselves and their families, and 83 percent say that this coverage meets their needs.
  • Looking ahead to 2015, 25 percent of small business owners plan to offer health insurance options for their employees, compared to 19 percent in 2010.
  • Among small business owners surveyed, 56 percent believe that the cost for healthcare in 2015, including insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs, will cause a great deal or some financial hardship.

Small Business Index Key Drivers

Wells Fargo, together with Gallup, surveys small business owners quarterly across the nation to gauge their perceptions of their present situation (past 12 months) and future expectations (next 12 months) in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring, and credit availability.

Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index Scores: Q4 2013 – Q4 2014

   

Overall Index
Score

 

Present
Situation

 

Future
Expectations

Q4 2014 (surveyed November 2014)   58   21   37
Q3 2014 (surveyed July 2014)   49   18   31
Q2 2014 (surveyed April 2014)   47   14   33
Q1 2014 (surveyed January 2014)   45   16   29
Q4 2013 (surveyed October 2013)   24   7   17
     

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 situation. The Index consists of two dimensions: 1) Owners’ ratings of the current situation of their businesses and, 2) Owners’ ratings of how they expect their businesses to perform over the next 12 months. Results are based on telephone interviews with 601 small business owners in all 50 United States conducted Nov. 10-14 2014. The overall Small Business Index is computed using a formula that scores and sums the answers to 12 questions — six about the present situation and six about the future. An Index score of zero indicates that small business owners, as a group, are neutral — neither optimistic nor pessimistic — about their companies’ situations. The overall Index can range from -400 (the most negative score possible) to +400 (the most positive score possible), but in practice spans a much more limited range. The margin of sampling error is +/- four percentage points. The highest Index reading was positive 114 (+114) in the fourth quarter of 2006, and the lowest reading was negative 28 (-28) in the third quarter of 2010.

Wells Fargo serves approximately 3 million small business owners across the United States and loans more money to America’s small businesses than any other bank (2002-2013 CRA government data). To help more small businesses achieve financial success, in 2014 Wells Fargo introduced Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM — a broad initiative to deliver resources, guidance and services for business owners — and a goal to extend $100 billion in new lending to small businesses by 2018. For more information about Wells Fargo Works for Small Business, visit: WellsFargoWorks.com. Follow us on Twitter @WellsFargoWorks.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.6 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 8,700 locations, 12,500 ATMs, and the internet (wellsfargo.com), and has offices in 36 countries to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 265,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 29 on Fortune’s 2014 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Wells Fargo perspectives are also available at Wells Fargo Blogs and Wells Fargo Stories.

About Gallup

For more than 70 years, Gallup has been a recognized leader in the measurement and analysis of people’s attitudes, opinions and behavior. While best known for the Gallup Poll, founded in 1935, Gallup’s current activities consist largely of providing marketing and management research, advisory services and education to the world’s largest corporations and institutions.

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Release Summary

Small business owners are the most optimistic they have been in more than six years, with the overall Index score increasing this quarter to positive 58, up from a positive 49 in July 2014.

Wells Fargo & Company