CHICAGO – The RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI), presented by RSM US LLP (“RSM”) in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, eased to 131.3 in the second quarter, down modestly from 134.0 in the first quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis. This top-line sentiment indicates that despite a variety of shocks to the real economy over the past two years, overall business conditions remain solid. The 131.3 reading is in line with the 2017−2020 period before the pandemic, when the middle market generally thrived following steep federal tax cuts, a large increase in federal spending and low interest rates.
“Resilience – not recession – is the primary takeaway from this quarter’s survey results,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist with RSM US LLP. “The easing in topline sentiment reflects executives’ views on the current economy, which has been tempered by lingering inflation, higher wage costs and the recent disruption among small and regional banks. The survey results show a clear divergence on sentiment when looking ahead over the next six months – likely because we’re capturing an economy in transition.”
Middle Market Sentiment Optimistic about Second Half of 2023
During the second quarter, evaluations of the economy soured, with only 35% of survey participants indicating an improvement in the general economy and 42% saying it had deteriorated. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they expect an improvement in the general economy in the second half of the year, which RSM attributes to sustained demand by U.S. households for goods and services.
Though lingering inflation is contributing to a general compression in profit margins across the economy, expectations on revenues and net earnings remain strong. In the current quarter, 42% of respondents said gross revenues improved, down from 53% in the first quarter, while 44% indicated an improvement in net earnings, which is down from 49%. Survey answers imply that 70% of surveyed executives expect improvement in gross revenues over the next six months and 65% assume that net earnings will improve over the next six months.
“Middle market firms’ optimism about revenue and earnings as well as increased capital expenditures reflects an underlying confidence in business conditions looking ahead,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president, chief policy officer and head of strategic advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Maintaining a healthy credit supply to service this optimism is vitally important to protecting economic growth as companies face continued interest rate, inflation, and workforce challenges.”
Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they paid higher prices, which is up from 70% previously, while 79% expect to pay higher costs over the next six months. For prices received, 57% of respondents indicated they had passed along higher prices to customers, with 70% expecting to do so in the second half of the year.
Middle Market Strength Demonstrated by Labor Market and Capital Expenditures
One continuing sign of strength in the MMBI survey has been firms’ willingness to invest in productivity-enhancing capital expenditures. Almost half, or 46%, said they increased business investment and 60% expect to do so through the end of the year.
The most robust element of the American economy right now is the labor market. Not surprisingly, hiring and hiring intentions remain stout, with 50% of respondents saying they increased hiring and 62% indicating they intend to do so over the next 180 days. Fifty-eight percent of survey participants said they increased compensation and 72% said they intend to do so in the near term.
The survey data that informs this index reading was gathered from 404 respondents between April 3 and April 24, 2023.
About the RSM US Middle Market Business Index
Built in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, the MMBI is borne out of the subset of questions in the survey that asks respondents to report the change in a variety of indicators. Respondents are asked a total of 20 questions patterned after those in other qualitative business surveys, such as those from the Institute of Supply Management and National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The 20 questions relate to changes in various measures of their business, such as revenues, profits, capital expenditures, hiring, employee compensation, prices paid, prices received and inventories. There are also questions that pertain to the economy and outlook, as well as to credit availability and borrowing. For 10 of the questions, respondents are asked to report the change from the previous quarter; for the other 10 they are asked to state the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead.
The responses to each question are reported as diffusion indexes. The MMBI is a composite index computed as an equal weighted sum of the diffusion indexes for 10 survey questions plus 100 to keep the MMBI from becoming negative. A reading above 100 for the MMBI indicates that the middle market is generally expanding; below 100 indicates that it is generally contracting. The distance from 100 is indicative of the strength of the expansion or contraction.
About The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the Main Streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.
They all share one thing: They count on the U.S. Chamber to be their voice in Washington, across the country, and around the world. For more than 100 years, we have advocated for pro-business policies that help businesses create jobs and grow our economy.
About RSM US LLP
RSM US LLP is the U.S. member of RSM International, a global network of independent assurance, tax and consulting firms with 57,000 people in 120 countries. For more information, visit rsmus.com, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and/or connect with us on LinkedIn.