Wells Fargo Survey: Small Business Optimism Hits 11-year High

Looking at the year ahead, business owners anticipate strong revenues, cash flow and capital spending; rate current administration on key issues

SAN FRANCISCO--()--Small business owners entered the new year feeling the most optimistic since early 2007, according to findings from the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index conducted January 3–9.

In the latest quarterly survey of small business optimism, the overall Index score came in at 107, up from 103 in November 2017, and the highest score since early 2007. A jump in the “future expectations” score – which measures how business owners expect their businesses to perform over the next 12 months – largely drove the improvement in optimism. In January, the score improved five points to 65, the highest reading since December 2006, the last time the “future expectations” score finished at 65.

The economy ended 2017 on a high note, and many small business owners believe that strong momentum will carry over into 2018,” said Mark Vitner, Wells Fargo Managing Director and Senior Economist at Wells Fargo. “We are encouraged by the breadth of the improvement this past year, particularly in quantifiable areas like sales and overall finances. The more broad-based the gains, the more likely those gains will be longer lasting.”

In January, 52 percent of business owners reported their revenue increased a little or a lot over the past 12 months, up from 46 percent in November 2017 and the highest reading on this measure since 2007. The survey also showed that many business owners anticipate strong revenues in the year ahead, with 66 percent saying they expect their company revenues to increase over the next 12 months, which is the highest reading on this measure in the history of the survey. Other key drivers in the first quarter included:

  • Healthy cash flow outlook – Three-fourths (77 percent) of business owners expect their cash flow will be very good or somewhat good over the next 12 months, up from 73 percent in November 2017 and the highest reading on this measure in the history of the survey.
  • Improvements in capital spending – Thirty-eight percent expect the amount of money their business allocates for capital spending to increase a little or a lot over the next 12 months, compared to 33 percent in November 2017. This is the highest this measure has been since December 2003, when it was also 38 percent.
  • Ease of obtaining credit – Forty-six percent expect credit will be very easy or somewhat easy to obtain, compared to 45 percent in November 2017.
  • Continued hiring – A third (33 percent) of business owners expect the number of jobs at their company to increase in the next 12 months, up one percentage point from November 2017.

Our latest survey tells us that small business owners feel better about the economy and the future of their businesses,” said Andy Rowe, head of Customer Segments at Wells Fargo. “We are encouraged to see more business owners forecasting strong revenues, healthy cash flows, and increased capital spending over the next 12 months. These trends tell us that small business owners are more positive about the economy, and that optimism is translating into investment in the future of their businesses right now.”

Small business owners rate presidential administration on key issues

The administration generally receives high marks on economic issues affecting small businesses, but lower marks on non-economic issues, such as infrastructure improvements, international relations and healthcare reform.

In January, business owners were asked about the current presidential administration and its impact on their businesses. More than half of survey respondents (58 percent) said the current administration understands the issues that are important to their business and another 58 percent said the administration cares about these issues. Fifty-six percent said the administration prioritizes these issues, and 55 percent said the administration is effective at addressing them. When asked to give the current administration a grade on its performance on issues important to their business over the past year, about half (49 percent) gave the administration an “A” or “B,” and a quarter of respondents gave the administration an “F.”

When it comes to key issues impacting small business owners, 61 percent said the current presidential administration is doing a very good or somewhat good job of improving the overall economy, and 53 percent said the administration is doing a very good or somewhat good job of job creation. Looking at taxes, 50 percent said the current administration is doing a very good or somewhat good job on tax reform that impacts small business owners specifically, and 49 percent said it is doing a very good or somewhat good job on tax reform overall.i Regulation reform has been another key issue for business owners, and on the survey, 46 percent said the current administration is doing a very good or somewhat good job of regulation reform impacting small business owners.

However, on non-economic issues, small business owners said that the current administration is doing a very poor or somewhat poor job on healthcare reform (50 percent), international relations (45 percent) and infrastructure improvements, such as roads and bridges (38 percent.)

Small business top challenges

In January, business owners were asked to identify the most important challenge facing their businesses today. Attracting customers and finding new business rose to the top of the list at 16 percent, followed closely by hiring and retaining high quality staff at 13 percent. Other top concerns this quarter included financial stability and cash flow (10 percent), taxes (10 percent), government regulations (7 percent) and competition/larger corporations/internet (7 percent). These challenges have been consistently reported as the top concerns of small business owners since early 2013, although the order of concerns shifts from quarter to quarter.

Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index Scores: Q1 2017 – Q1 2018

             
   

Overall Index
Score

 

Present
Situation

 

Future
Expectations

Q1 2018 (Surveyed January 2018)   107   42   65
Q4 2017 (surveyed October 2017)   103   43   60
Q3 2017 (surveyed July 2017)   106   45   61
Q2 2017 (surveyed April 2017)   95   36   59
Q1 2017 (surveyed February 2017)   100   40   60
     

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 603 small business owners, with annual revenues up to $20 million, in all 50 United States conducted Jan. 3-9, 2018. 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 +114 in the fourth quarter of 2006, and the lowest reading was -28 in the third quarter of 2010.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.9 trillion in assets. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 8,300 locations, 13,000 ATMs, the internet (wellsfargo.com) and mobile banking, and has offices in 42 countries and territories to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 263,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 25 on Fortune’s 2017 rankings of America’s largest corporations. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.

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 (loans under $1 million, 2002-2016 Community Reinvestment Act government data). To help more small businesses achieve financial success, Wells Fargo introduced Wells Fargo Works for Small Business® – a broad initiative to deliver resources, guidance and services for business owners. For more information about Wells Fargo Works for Small Business, visit: WellsFargoWorks.com. Follow us on Twitter @WellsFargoWorks.

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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i The Q1 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey was conducted January 3-9, 2018. President Trump signed the rewrite of the tax code into law on December 22, 2017.

Contacts

Media contacts
Alice Hartnett, 704-715-9115
@AHartnettWF
alice.hartnett@wellsfargo.com
Sarah DuBois, 612-466-7484
@SDuboisWF
sarah.dubois@wellsfargo.com

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