A couple of recent surveys show finance professionals and economists striking a cautiously optimistic note when it comes to the economy’s prospects in 2013. However, another survey of small business owners reveals a more pessimistic outlook.
Nearly two-thirds of the 500-plus respondents to the 2013 AFP Business Outlook Survey expect growth of between 1% and 2.9% this year. About 30% indicated that the economy would be stagnant or contract, while 6% predict growth of at least 3%.
The breakdown is similar when it comes to inflation, with most expecting modest increases in prices. Three-quarters say inflation will come in at between 1% and 3%. Just 6% anticipate greater increases in prices.
CFOs’ outlook for capital and employment are mildly positive. Access to both short- and long-term credit should either remain the same or increase, according to 90+% of respondents. When it comes to employment, 38% said their organizations would expand their U.S. workforce, while 40% of those with employees outside the U.S. said they would add to their foreign employee rosters. Overall, respondents predict that the U.S. will add 1.3 million workers in 2013; in comparison, the U.S. added 1.9 million non-farm jobs in the 12 months ending in November 2012.
The potential fiscal cliff caught CFOs’ attention; 36% have taken some action, such as reducing or delaying capital spending, or cutting back in hiring. A majority – 60% – support a blend of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit.
Over at the National Association for Business Economics, participants in the December 2012 Outlook anticipate “stable, moderate growth,” with real GDP rising 2.1% in 2013. It’s important to point out that they also see annualized growth rate hitting 3% by the fourth quarter of next year.
Investment in the housing market will be one driver behind the growth, with the economists predicting both rising prices – a 3.5% average increase – and a boost in housing starts to .93 million in 2013, up from .77 million in 2012.
However, the NABE respondents predict just 2% growth in consumer spending, barely better than the 1.9% in 2012. They also anticipate sluggish growth in the corporate sector, with profits after-tax rising 5%; they’re expected to increase 8.5% this year.
On a cheerier note, NABE members predict a drop in unemployment to 7.7%, down from an expected 8.1% in 2012.
However, it appears that few of the jobs will come from small business, judging by the December 2012 Small Business Economic Trends report by the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Just 5% of the 733 businesses responding plan to boost their payrolls, and just 6% say that it’s a good time to expand.
The most significant business challenge is weak sales, according to 23% of the NFIB respondents. That may help explain the negative 5% (net) that plan to boost inventory levels, and why fewer business owners plan capital investments over the next three to six months – 19%, down from 22% a month earlier.
One bright spot: according to NFIB respondents, the average interest rate on a short term loan was 5.7%, among the lowest over the past six years.
Overall, the NFIB survey says the survey is the tenth lowest of the 377 conducted since 1973.