Business Barometer®: Small businesses not feeling holiday cheer in December

December 27, 2019 – Small business confidence dropped 0.6 index points in December to 55.5, the lowest confidence level all year, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s latest Business Barometer®.

“Small business owners are entering the new decade with a generally low outlook, although there are pronounced regional differences, with resource economies particularly pessimistic,” said Ted Mallett, CFIB’s vice-president and chief economist. “There is a lot of economic anxiety right now in the small business sector, especially around insufficient domestic demand, which business owners are citing as one of their biggest limitations on growth.”

Only 38 per cent of owners say that their business is in a good state, the lowest proportion since 2016, compared to 16 per cent who say it is in a bad state. Hiring plans fell even further this month, with just 13 per cent of owners planning to add full-time staff in the next three months compared to 16 per cent who plan to cut back. On average, business owners plan to increase wages by 1.6 percent over the next year.

An index level nearer to 65 indicates that the economy is growing at its potential. 

Provincial results: Most provinces post confidence losses

All but two provinces experienced confidence losses this month, with the biggest drops in New Brunswick (down 7.5 index points to 62.7), Newfoundland & Labrador (down 7.1 index points to 47.7) and Alberta (down 6.4 index points to 38.3). The latter had the lowest confidence level in the country, followed by Saskatchewan, which lost 4.1 index points and dropped to 40.0. Sentiment was also weak in British Columbia (55.2) and Manitoba (57.9). Along with British Columbia, Ontario was the only province to post an optimism increase, gaining 4.2 index points to 62.5. Prince Edward Island was the most optimistic province at 74.1, followed by Quebec (65.5). Nova Scotia (60.2) also posted results above the national average. 

Industry results: Weak outlook in resources, transportation and agriculture sectors

The natural resources sector had the weakest outlook, dropping 7.0 index points to 45.7. Businesses in transportation (47.9), agriculture (49.4) and hospitality (50.5) also reported low optimism levels. Despite the holiday shopping season, retailers experienced a 5.3 index point drop in optimism, falling to 53.2. Health services (66.5), financial services (64.4) and professional services (61.1) had the highest optimism levels. Confidence gains in construction (up 2.0 index points to 57.5), financial services (up 0.8 index points to 64.4) and manufacturing (up 0.3 index points to 58.5), the only sectors to see increases this month, were moderate compared to the losses in the other 10 sectors. 

Read the December Business Barometer®

December 2019 findings are based on 770 responses, collected from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Data reflect responses received December 2 through the 16th. Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 3.5 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