Business Barometer®: Small business confidence at never-before-seen low amid COVID-19 outbreak

March 25, 2020 – Small business confidence fell to a new historic low amid impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s latest Business Barometer®. After a 10-point drop earlier in the month, the national confidence level fell a further 19 index points to 30.8 from February’s level of 60.5.

“March 2020 has turned out to be a month like no other in Canada’s economic history,” said Ted Mallett, CFIB’s vice-president and chief economist. “Small business sentiment has never been this low in the Business Barometer’s 32-year history, including during the 2008 and 1990 recessions.”

Only one in five owners say their business is in a good state, compared to 38 per cent who say it is doing poorly. Hiring plans have ground to a halt, with just 5 per cent of business owners planning to add on full-time staff in the next three months and 50 per cent planning layoffs. An index level nearer to 65 indicates that the economy is growing at its potential.

“Although these measures are necessary, they have a direct immediate impact on small businesses and their employees,” added Mallett. ”We are urging governments to provide more relief for small businesses to make sure that we can restore optimism after the crisis is over.”

Provincial results: Sentiment crash across the country

Quebec experienced the sharpest drop in optimism this month, falling 44.5 index points to 15.7. It is possibly due to the province taking quicker and more drastic measures than other provinces to halt the COVID-19 outbreak. Alberta (26.2) and Newfoundland and Labrador (27.8) had the next lowest results, although they experienced the smallest drops in optimism. Saskatchewan (28.3) and British Columbia (28.8) both posted levels close to the national average after experiencing 16-point drops, while Ontario (37.0) and Manitoba (37.5) fared a bit better. Nova Scotia (44.0) and New Brunswick (44.6) both experienced large drops in confidence, but remained more upbeat than the rest of the country.

Industry results: All industries experience drops in confidence

All industries experienced a drop in optimism and fell to levels between 21 and 36 index points. The information and recreation sector was the least optimistic, registering at 21.6 index points, followed by manufacturing (24.7) and financial services (27.1). Businesses in financial services also experienced the biggest drop in confidence, losing 35.4 index points over last month. Personal services (36.1), hospitality (34.0) and retail (33.4) posted the highest confidence levels, though still well-below the norm.

Changes in Barometer release schedule

CFIB normally releases the results of its Barometer on the final Thursday of each month. Due to rapidly evolving economic conditions impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, CFIB will increase the frequency of its Business Barometer Survey from monthly to bi-monthly through June 2020. CFIB will release results for early April on April 9.

Read the March Business Barometer®

Mid-March 2020 findings are based on 1,378 responses, collected from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Data reflect responses received on March 17 and 18. Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 2.6 per cent 19 times in 20.

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at