Chicago — The RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI), presented by RSM US LLP (“RSM”) in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, increased to 132.9 in the fourth quarter from 129.6 in the previous quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis. The MMBI survey results reflect the strong 4.9% pace of growth and 4.7% increase in productivity in the third quarter, underscoring the health of the U.S. middle market and an overall economy that is expected to grow at or above the long-term trend of 1.8% next year.
“The major takeaway from the fourth quarter survey is that middle market firms expect to continue making productivity-enhancing capital investments to bolster output,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist with RSM US LLP. “We anticipate improved corporate earnings ahead as pricing pressures ease and the past outlays on software, equipment and intellectual property boost overall economic activity at a reduced cost. While sentiment on the economy remains somewhat sour, it is simply not stopping middle market businesses from expanding their operations.”
Middle Market Firms Expect Strong Revenues and Net Earnings in Coming Months
Middle market executives’ mood on the economy improved somewhat, with 42% indicating an improvement in general economic conditions, up from 36% previously, while 39% said there was some deterioration. Looking ahead, 62% of survey respondents indicated they anticipate an improvement in economic conditions through the middle of next year.
A plurality of the surveyed executives said that gross revenues and net earnings had been improving during the current quarter, with 44% indicting better revenues and 41% noting improved earnings. In contrast, 32% and 37%, respectively, indicated deterioration in the two. Encouragingly, 72% of executives expect strong revenues and 71% anticipate improved net earnings over the next six months. RSM attributes middle market pricing power as one reason why firms remain optimistic about revenues and net earnings.
"Looking ahead to 2024, it is encouraging to see that businesses in the middle market have improved their outlook on the economy,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “As businesses continue to invest in their growth, they need policymakers in D.C. to get serious about investing in them. That means tackling the rapidly rising regulatory burden and workforce challenges constraining further economic growth from the middle market sector.”
Firms Continue Investing in their Business Despite Elevated Costs
One hallmark of the pandemic era that has continued into the current expansion is a willingness of middle market firms to invest in their firms to boost productivity during a time when labor remains tight. Twenty-six percent of surveyed executives said they increased borrowing to finance commercial and industrial loans and 49% said that they would do so during the next six months.
Despite the increased cost of doing business, 46% of MMBI survey participants boosted outlays on capital expenditures and 66% said they intend to so over the next half year. Those investments should create the conditions for the improved revenues and net earnings that executives report expecting in the near term. In contrast, 20% of executives said they pulled back on capital expenditures and 9% intend to pull back over the next six months.
Optimism about the future is underscored by firms’ hiring and compensation plans. In the current quarter, approximately 44% of firms increased hiring and 66% said they intend to do so during the next 180 days. Roughly 52% of participants increased employee compensation and 68% said they would do so in the near term.
Pricing remains a challenge in the middle market and is largely responsible for sour sentiment among the public and some firms. Seventy-one percent of survey respondents reported paying more for basic goods in the current quarter and 75% said they expect to continue paying more over the next six months. Nearly half (47%) implied an increase in prices charged to firms downstream and 66% said they would increase prices in the near term.
The survey data that informs this index reading was gathered from 403 respondents between Oct. 2 and Oct. 20, 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 LLP
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.