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Survey: Small business owners’ uncertainty increased in October

Although general optimism remained steady, uncertainty among small business owners spiked.

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More small business owners throughout the country expressed feeling uncertain about their economic future in the month before the election, although general optimism remained steady, according to research by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The NFIB’s Uncertainty Index increased by six points to 98 in October, while the Optimism Index held at 104. 

“Leading up to the presidential election, small businesses continued to focus on stabilizing their businesses but were uncertain about the future economic conditions due to COVID-19 government regulations on all levels,” said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB’s chief economist. “We see solid momentum going into the fourth quarter, and another good quarter could get the GDP back to its 2019 closing levels.”

The NFIB did not have state-specific data available, but Rosemary Elebash, the group’s director for Alabama, praised Gov. Kay Ivey last week for lifting occupancy limits on businesses. 

Ivey’s amended “safer-at-home” order extended Alabama’s statewide mask mandate but did away with her previous order that limited occupancy to 50 percent for retailers, entertainment venues and gyms. The change allows more customers inside restaurants, barbershops, salons and gyms if those businesses install “impermeable” barriers. The existing requirements to wear masks and social distance are still required inside, however. 

Ivey’s decision to extend the mask order but roll back other protective measures came as Alabama has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.

Some of NFIB’s research shows certain data points returning to pre-pandemic levels or appearing on track to do so if current trends continue. Nationally, 55 percent of business owners reported hiring or trying to hire employees in October, a historic high, according to the NFIB, which has been conducting monthly surveys since 1986.

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Key findings in its latest report were:

  • Earnings trends over the past three months improved 9 points to a net negative 3 percent reporting higher earnings. 
  • Earnings trends have improved to pre-crisis levels, up 32 points since June. 
  • Inventory investment plans for the next three to six months increased 1 point to a net 12 percent, a record high.  
  • Real sales expectations in the next three months increased 3 points to a net 11 percent expecting gains. 
  • Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months declined 5 points to a net 27 percent.

The full Small Business Economic Trends Survey is here.

Micah Danney is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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