CHICAGO – The RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI), presented by RSM US LLP (“RSM”) in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, remained essentially unchanged, inching down to 129.3 in the third quarter from 131.1 in the prior quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis. The MMBI survey results align with overall business conditions, as the U.S. economy in the third quarter looks to be expanding in line with its long-term trend of 1.8% amid stabilizing prices, solid demand and a robust job market that presents a challenge to firms looking to grow.
“One of the hallmarks of economic expansion over the past two years has been a divergence between current and future views of the economy, which is reflected in this quarter’s MMBI data,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist with RSM US LLP. “While current evaluations remain dour, the forward look on the economy, revenues, earnings and even pricing remains rock solid, indicating a rising probability of a soft landing for the U.S. economy following the twin shocks of inflation and higher interest rates.”
Forward-looking Sentiment Remains Optimistic in the Middle Market
The middle market evaluation of the current economy remains dour in the third quarter while sentiment is more optimistic about the future. Tempered by the permanent increase in prices of most goods and services, only 35% of respondents in the MMBI survey indicated that the economy improved in the current quarter. Nearly 60% stated they are expecting improvement over the next six months.
Underscoring the possibility of a soft landing for the U.S. economy, 70% of surveyed executives said they expect revenue to rise over the next six months and 68% anticipate an improvement in net earnings over the same period. With a confident forward look, 63% of respondents also expect to increase outlays on productivity-enhancing capital expenditures. In contrast, for the current quarter, only 42% of respondents reported improvement in gross revenues, 40% experienced a rise in net earnings and 42% said they increased capital spending.
“Middle market businesses are bullish about the future for their companies and the economy,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president, chief policy officer and head of strategic advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They are planning to put money behind that optimism adding new employees and expanding their infrastructure. However, a tight labor market and credit restrictions could dampen those plans. Policymakers can help, by expanding the workforce and by ensuring that new regulations don’t limit access to credit.”
Labor Continues to Challenge Middle Market as Firms Adjust to Higher Pricing Levels
The torrid pace of hiring that characterized the economy over the past two years is now gradually cooling, and MMBI data shows this is true for midsize organizations. Roughly 38% of respondents indicated they increased hiring during the current quarter, down from 49% in the prior period. Sixty percent stated they intend to add workers in the coming months. However, competition for labor is expected to remain intense, with 68% of executives planning to boost wages to attract workers over the next six months. Forty-five percent said they did so in the current quarter.
Labor costs, which traditionally account for roughly 70% of all business costs, are being passed downstream in the form of higher prices. Seventy percent of executives indicated they paid more for all goods and services in the current quarter, and 74% expect to do so in the near term.
The MMBI survey results imply the economy has reached a point where firms are in the final phase of passing along those costs. Only 44% of participants indicated they raised prices in the current quarter, and 64% indicated they anticipate doing so over the next six months, down from 70% during the previous quarter and the cyclical peak of 77% in the third quarter of 2022.
The survey data that informs this index reading was gathered from 416 respondents between July 5 and July 25, 2023.
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 approximately 1,500 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 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 LLC
RSM is the leading provider of professional services to the middle market. 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 landscape. Our purpose is to instill confidence in a world of change, empowering our clients and people to realize their full potential.
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.