Middle market business leaders report record-high optimism with strong expectations on revenues, net earnings, hiring and compensation.
CHICAGO–The RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI), presented by RSM US LLP (“RSM”) in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, today announced the index reached a record high in Q4 2017, continuing an upward year-over-year trend with 2017 as the best year for the index, and the most optimistic middle market leaders have been since the index debuted in 2015. This quarter, nearly two-thirds of middle market leaders expressed confidence that revenues and net earnings will increase in 2018, and anticipated pricing increases for both goods and services delivered and received. They also signaled plans to increase hiring and compensation in the next six months.
As leaders responded to favorable economic conditions, they also indicated delays on capital investment decisions as policy uncertainty remains and where to invest becomes less clear, particularly in an increasingly complex digital economy. Less than half of middle market leaders plan to increase capital investments in the year ahead, and roughly one quarter have intentionally delayed capital investments due to lack of funding, deals falling through, economic uncertainty and a softening of marketplace demand.
In Q4 2017, the MMBI posted a composite score of 132.2, just eclipsing the previous record high of 132.1 in the second quarter of this year. The 6.5-point increase over last quarter indicates steady optimism on economic conditions, with more leaders expecting economic improvement in the next six months than last quarter. A reading above 100 indicates an expanding middle market.
“Middle market leaders’ optimism in Q4 2017 coincides with outside conditions, including a strong GDP outlook, increasing consumer spending and improving global economic conditions,” said Joe Brusuelas, RSM US LLP chief economist. “The middle market is responding to growth expectations in line with the broader economy, despite ongoing uncertainty on the regulatory and political landscape. They also have expectations that point to a strong first half of 2018.”
“The Index increase over last quarter indicates steady optimism from middle market leaders on economic conditions and the expectation of pro-growth tax reform,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Middle Market Business Council Executive Director Tom Sullivan. “It’s great news when middle market employers expect to hire and raise wages for their workers. The U.S. Chamber will continue to advocate for businesses of all sizes in 2018 to ensure their challenges for further investment and growth are heard in Washington.”
Middle Market Leaders Plan to Hire, Increase Wages Next Year
In 2017, the tight labor market has been a consistent challenge for the middle market, though in Q4 2017 business leaders reported a significant jump in expectations to hire over the past quarter (53 percent, up from 44 percent the prior quarter). Their ability to find qualified workers to fill open positions is yet to be seen, and more businesses reported they are planning to increase wages in early 2018.
Shaky Business Investment Plans Could Dampen Long-Term Growth
Executives remain extremely cautious. Roughly one fourth of respondents indicated they intentionally delayed planning capital investments in the past year, and only 4 in 10 are likely to increase the overall level of capital investments in 2018. Companies that plan to invest indicated they intend to upgrade or purchase computer hardware, machinery/equipment, and computer software in the next 12 months.
“We caution business leaders to make investments to stay competitive as we look to 2018,” added Brusuelas. “With the revolution we are seeing in the digital economy, we urge middle market leaders to ask themselves whether the capital investments they are making are transitional or transformational.”
The survey data that informs the index reading was gathered between October 10 and November 3, 2017. To learn more about the middle market and the MMBI, visit the RSM website.
About the RSM US Middle Market Business Index
RSM US LLP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have partnered to present the RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI). It is based on research of middle market firms conducted by Harris Poll, which began in the first quarter of 2015. The survey is conducted four times a year, in the first month of each quarter: January, April, July and October. The survey panel consists of 700 middle market executives and is designed to accurately reflect conditions in the middle market.
Built in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, the MMBI is borne out of the subset of questions in the survey that ask 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 federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations. For more information, visit uschamber.com and FreeEnterprise.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
About RSM US LLP
RSM’s purpose is to deliver the power of being understood to our clients, colleagues and communities through world-class audit, tax and consulting services focused on middle market businesses. The clients we serve are the engine of global commerce and economic growth, and we are focused on developing leading professionals and services to meet their evolving needs in today’s ever-changing business environment.
RSM US LLP is the U.S. member of RSM International, a global network of independent, audit, tax and consulting firms with more than 41,000 people in over 120 countries. For more information, visit rsmus.com, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and/or connect with us on LinkedIn.