Business Barometer®: Small business confidence dips slightly in March

March 2014
Ted Mallett, Vice-President & Chief Economist

Small business owners are ending March with a slightly less optimistic tone.  CFIB's Business Barometer® Index is closing off the month at 64.1, a barely perceptible 0.3 decline from February levels and very close to its January mark. So far, business operating conditions in 2014 have been stable but not overly robust.

On a scale between 0 and 100, an index above 50 means owners expecting their business’ performance to be stronger in the next year outnumber those expecting weaker performance. One normally sees an index level of between 65 and 70 when the economy is growing at its potential.

Overall, we are seeing improvement in the Prairie Provinces, Alberta (72.7), Saskatchewan (66.4) and Manitoba (63.7). Business sentiment in Ontario (63.7) is also up, but by less than a point. Little change is coming from British Columbia (71.2), Nova Scotia (57.9) and New Brunswick (56.9), while optimism has dipped in Newfoundland & Labrador (65.9), Quebec (58.7) and Prince Edward Island (57.6).

Sector profiles also show a mix in outlooks, with optimism improving in agriculture, construction, wholesale, retail and information, arts and recreation. Offsetting those are declines in outlooks among the manufacturing, transportation, professional services and hospitality sectors.

Short-term hiring expectations are still running reasonably well, with 26 per cent expecting to add full-timers in the next 3-4 months, versus only 7 per cent who expect to cut back. However, only 36 per cent of owners see their businesses in ‘good’ shape, lowest reading since mid-2010. Order books and accounts receivables also show some weakness.

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