Small business confidence is at its lowest point in two years, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). Their Small Business Optimism Index, which measures exactly that, dropped 1.3 points down to 93.9 in January. This is the weakest it has been since February of 2014, although just how weak 93.9 isn’t particularly clear.
The drop is in line with a general economic slowdown of late, which is due in large part to a slow dollar, a sluggish international demand, and a lot of inventory sell-offs. All of this resulted in only a 0.7% economic growth in the fourth quarter, which has undoubtedly impacted small business as well.
Although the Federal Reserve raised interest in December, and there was a significant stock market sell-off at the end of 2015 as well, NFIB does not think these events had much of an impact on small business confidence. Business owners expect weak sales over the next six months and a general reduction in business conditions. These expectations can impact things like hiring, expansion, inventory orders, and other things that help drive the economy.
Small businesses haven’t been scaling back on hiring, though–in fact, they have been reporting a shortage of qualified workers. Some have begun offering better wages in order to entice qualified employees to fill those spots, and the share of small businesses that are raising wages has increased to the highest point since 2007.
Inventories aren’t expected to expand during this perceived sales slump. It could help offset the increase in wages required to fully staff operations, though–something that in and of itself is probably holding some of these businesses back.