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Small Business Confidence Declines, Office Attendance Edges Lower, Port Cargo Traffic Expected To Rise

Small Business Confidence Declines, Office Attendance Edges Lower, Port Cargo Traffic Expected To Rise

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Small Business Confidence Declines

Small business confidence declined in August from the prior month, with a quarter of national survey respondents reporting inflation still posing a significant challenge to their business prospects, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

The trade group’s monthly survey showed respondents rating their optimism about the economy at an average of 91.3, with any numbers above 50 generally reflecting positive outlooks based on a scoring of metrics such as inflation expectations, consumer spending trends and prospects for hiring needed workers.

The group said the August number is slightly below the July reading and also the 20th consecutive month that it registered below the average score of 98 in the 49 years of tracking by NFIB. Strong consumer spending remains a bright spot for respondents, but finding qualified workers remains a challenge for small business operators.

“With small business owners’ views about future sales growth and business conditions discouraging, owners want to hire and make money now from strong consumer spending,” NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said in a statement Tuesday. “Inflation and the worker shortage continue to be the biggest obstacles for Main Street.”

The trade group said 56% of respondents reported capital outlays in the past six months, up one point from July. Of those making expenditures, 37% reported spending on new equipment, 24% acquired vehicles, and 17% improved or expanded facilities.

Eleven percent spent money on new fixtures and furniture and 4% acquired new buildings or land for expansion. Twenty-four percent of owners plan capital outlays in the next few months, down three points from July, the trade group reported. 

Office Attendance Edges Lower

The Labor Day holiday led big-city office attendance to average 47% of pre-pandemic levels in the week ended Sept. 6, down from 47.3% in the prior week in the latest tracking by Kastle Systems.

It was also the fourth consecutive week in which the security technology firm’s “Back to Work Barometer,” based on anonymous keycard data from clients’ office properties, registered below 48%. The average has hovered near 50% of pre-pandemic levels for much of the past year but has yet to return to the peak of 50.4% posted in late January.

The holiday curbed attendance from prior weeks even among the best attendance performers, led by Houston at 59.7%, Austin, Texas, at 57.6%, Dallas at 52.1% and Chicago at 50.6%.

Los Angeles has also posted above-average numbers within the barometer cities in recent weeks, most recently registering at 47.8% of pre-pandemic attendance.

Cargo Imports Expected To Rise

The flow of U.S. port cargo traffic, often a predictor of retail and industrial demand, is expected to pick up in the final months of 2023 as consumer purchases and retailer orders rebound, according to the latest monthly report by the National Retail Federation and consulting firm Hackett Associates.

Analysts predicted import cargo volume at the nation’s major container reports will hit the 2 million mark for 20-foot-equivalent units for the second month in a row for September and remain there in October.

“These are strong numbers and a sign retailers are optimistic about the holiday season since they don’t import merchandise unless they think they can sell it.” Jonathan Gold, the NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement.

“The holiday season is now the top priority for everyone in the retail supply chain as merchants prepare for the rush of shoppers who will soon be buying gifts for friends and family,” Gold said.

The NRF and Hackett report said the recent ratification of a West Coast port labor agreement provides some supply chain stability, after port operations were hit by sporadic work stoppages for much of the past year.

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