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NFIB: A ‘record level’ of small businesses are growing their profits

Linda McMahon, left, head of the Small Business Administration, examines bees displayed by Ted Dennard, owner of the Savannah Bee Co., during a tour of the company earlier this month in Savannah, Ga. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News/AP)

The National Federation of Independent Business regularly publishes its Small Business Economic Trends Survey, and for more than year the data has pointed in one direction: up. Small businesses are optimistic about the future. That’s all well and good, but is all this optimism turning into profits? Jobs? Investments?

Seems so, according to the April 2018 survey, which was released Tuesday.

Juanita Duggan, NFIB president and chief executive, said she has never seen profit trends so high. “The optimism small businesses owners have about the economy is turning into new job creation, increased wages and benefits, and investment,” she said.

The report cites increased consumer spending, lower taxes and less regulatory barriers as the major reasons for the surge in optimism — and profits. More than 1 in 5 small businesses are expecting higher sales in the next few months, with those in the construction (59 percent) and manufacturing (56 percent) sectors coming in as most confident.

The survey, which has been conducted quarterly since 1973 and monthly since 1985, was based on responses from 1,200 to 2,000 small-business owners in April (the first month of the calendar quarter), and the numbers are solid.

For example, small businesses are making capital investments, with 43 percent of those surveyed saying they’re buying new equipment and 27 percent purchasing vehicles. Not only that, but many small-business owners say they are planning to spend even more money in the coming months.

Do small businesses face $83,000 in start-up costs to comply with regulations?

Small businesses are also spending more on their people. Thirty-three percent of the respondents said they’ve increased worker compensation, which is at its highest level since 2000.  Job creation in this sector is also at “historically strong” levels, the study says. Business owners said they are planning to spend more on training and technology to maximize worker productivity.

Still, there’s one thing about these numbers: There’s always another side of the story. For example, what about the four out of five respondents who didn’t say they were expecting an increase in sales? Forty-three percent said they’re planning to make investments, but how about the other 57 percent? And if 31 percent have increased worker compensation, will the remaining 69 percent be doing the same?

But that’s just me, the accountant. When looking at the past 45 years of data, the NFIB numbers are unquestionably strong, and the people there who analyze these things are feeling pretty good about the rest of the year.

“There is no question that small business is booming,” NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said.