Small business owners ‘trying to be as competitive as possible’ with benefits, wages: Expert

NFIB Executive Director of Research Holly Wade joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss small business’s concerns and the outlook for small businesses amid the current macroeconomic uncertainty.

Video Transcripts

SEANA SMITH: Well, the National Federation of Independent Businesses is out with its latest Small Business Optimism Index, which fell almost a full point in March, marking the 15th month in a row that we have seen this reading below the 49-year average. Among business owners, chief concerns are inflation, loan access, and also the availability of the quality of labour.

The NFIB’s executive director of research Holly Wade joining us now to break it all down. Holly, lots to get into here, but it’s clear that my takeaway from this, Main Street is not feeling any better about the prospects, the outlook here for business conditions. What are you hearing from the owners?

HOLLY WADE: So we’re hearing just that. They are still not very optimistic about business conditions looking forward. And in March, we saw a deterioration of those expecting higher sales than lower sales. So we’re seeing a deterioration there. Also in job openings, there are fewer job openings, even though it’s still historically very high. There was also a deterioration in those thinking that it’s a good time to expand. And again, as you said, the expected credit conditions did fall a bit last month. And so between those four components, those were the main reasons for the decline that we saw last month.

SEANA SMITH: Holly, when it comes to what we’re seeing in terms of predicting a recession, I know a number of small business owners have gotten a little bit more pessimistic. Are they bracing themselves for maybe a deeper recession than they had initially feared?

HOLLY WADE: Well, we’re still seeing high labor indicators. So those who are thinking that it’s a good time to hire, they are still planning to hire. They still have incredibly high numbers that have unfilled job openings. So there’s still those sales opportunities that they’re not able to take advantage of right now because of staffing limitations.

And until we see those numbers start to decline more significantly than we have, then we’ll look at the landscape of small business as far as recession. But right now, with those high labor indicators, there is still room for improvement and growth for small firms. They just aren’t able to find applicants to fill those open positions.

SEANA SMITH: Yes, 43% said that they cannot find workers. We just had that full screen up. Holly, so what are small business owners doing? Are they offering higher pay, or are they finding other incentives in order to try and attract that talent?

HOLLY WADE: Absolutely. They are trying to be as competitive as possible for retention and for recruitment to fill those open positions–higher compensation, benefits, expanding their benefits to be more attractive and competitive. And it’s often very difficult for small firms in that area, especially when it comes to the cost of health insurance, and some of those big ticket item compensation benefits that many employees aren’t able to offer.

However, increasing pay has been one of the ways that they’ve been able to try and recruit, but it’s still very challenging.

SEANA SMITH: Holly, you mentioned earlier– and we talked about it briefly– just the loan conditions. More business owners say that they are having a tougher time accessing loans. What does this do, then, to small business growth or really some of the inability, then, that some of these companies will have to expand here, at least in the near term?

HOLLY WADE: sure. Well, credit conditions, loans are more expensive. We’ve seen that in our data. And they’re expecting tighter credit conditions going forward. So we saw a bit of an uptick in those saying that they expect credit conditions to be harder in the next quarter than they were in the previous quarter.

But earnings are their primary source of financing their business and expansion. And we’ve seen some pretty healthy sales in the small business sector. And when we look at those who are regular borrowers on whether they are generally satisfied with borrowing or unsatisfied, we still only have 2% saying that they were unsatisfied in their borrowing efforts in this last quarter. So that still has stayed stable. Until we see that it is deteriorating, then that will be of great concern.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, it’s very important to point out just a small number of owners are saying that they are having a tough time right now. More business owners, though, are having a tough time with inflation. That, of course, has been the story in this index, in this report now for months. Are we seeing any signs of relief, or are at least some business owners getting a little bit more positive about the prices that they are paying for their goods, for their products, for their materials?

HOLLY WADE: Sure, so inflation has been the story over the last year for the small business sector. They’ve had an incredibly difficult time trying to manage those increased costs and remain competitive. We have seen a bit of a slow-up in actual price increases for their goods and services. So it does seem that there is a bit of relief on the inflation front. But it remains that still those who say that inflation is their single most important problem, operating their business is still at historic levels that we haven’t seen in 48 years.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Holly Wade, thanks so much for breaking down NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index.

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