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Business Barometer, March 2019

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March 2019 SME business outlook survey results

 

Small business optimism took a hit in March, erasing the improvement we had seen the month before. CFIB’s Business Barometer® Index dropped 3 points to 55.9, which remains mired among worst readings of any month in the past three years. Historically, healthy index levels should be nearer to 65.

Only Nova Scotia and Quebec business owners are posting healthy optimism levels (66.8 and 65.3 respectively). Sentiment in Ontario lost almost 5 points to land just under the 60 mark alongside PEI's. Optimism in both British Columbia and New Brunswick moved up a little, but their indexes remain near the national average in mid-50s. Business owners in Alberta (42.1) remain the most pessimistic but those in Newfoundland & Labrador (48.7), Saskatchewan (50.8) and Manitoba (51.4) are not faring much better.

Apart from the resources sector, which saw a 5.8-point drop in sentiment to only 38.8, and agri-business owners (49,0), which are often less optimistic this time of year, the outlook from owners in other sectors remain pretty consistent. Wholesalers (61.0) are the most optimistic, but there are four other service sector categories within a point. Similarly, the prime consumer-facing sectors of retail, hospitality and personal services all have index levels in the 55-to-58 range--on par with the national average.

Apart from sentiment, there are plenty of signs of sluggishness from the other indicators covered by the survey. Atypically, hiring plans weakened off this month, with only 17 per cent of owners planning on adding full-time staff and now 15 per cent expecting to cut back in the short term. Twelve-month forward wage and price plans also both dropped off further to only 1.7 and 1.5 per cent respectively. New orders and accounts receivable performance remain somewhat weak by standards of the past couple of years.

Questionnaire

Ted Mallett, vice-president & chief economist, 416 222-8022
Andreea Bourgeois, senior analyst, 506 855-2526
Simon Gaudreault, senior director, national research, 514 861-3234