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Business Confidence Rebounds in February

Posted on March 5, 2019

Business confidence rebounded modestly during February as optimism about the state and national economies outweighed a darkening outlook among Massachusetts manufacturers.

BCI.February.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) gained 0.5 points to 58.2 after dropping in January to its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 6.8 points during the past 12 months.

The February increase was driven by a 3.4-point jump in employer views of the state economy and a 3.3-point rise for the national economy. The government announced last week that the US economy grew at a 2.9 percent rate in 2018, matching 2015 as the biggest increase since the end of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

“Employers remain generally optimistic about a state economy that continues to run at full-employment levels and a US economy that is projected to grow by 2.2 percent this year” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, the erosion of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers during the past 12 months raises some concern about the long-term sustainability of the recovery.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during February.

The 3.4-point increase in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth left that indicator at 60.8. Confidence in the Massachusetts economy has declined 7.7 points since February 2018.

The U.S. Index measuring employer sentiment about the national economy rose to 56.0, its highest level since November. The reading was still 10.9 points less than a year ago.

Employer views about the future were more optimistic than the present for the first time in 11 months. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.5 points to 57.7 while he Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 1.5 points to 58.7.

Non-manufacturers (61.7) were significantly more confident than manufacturers (53.3). Large companies (62.3) were more optimistic than either medium-sized companies (57.1) or small companies (55.2). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.6) continued to be more bullish than those in the west (56.3).

“Employers last month welcomed several developments, including the end of the government shutdown and the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause increases in interest rates,” said Sara L. Johnson, Executive Director, Global Economics, IHS Markit and Vice Chairwoman of the BEA.

“The overall picture of business confidence reflects the economy itself ” slowing a bit but still strong overall.”

Mixed Signals

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the comments provided by employers on the February AIM Business Confidence Index Survey show that many companies remain bullish about 2019, while others remain concerned about issues ranging from gridlock in Washington to the persistent shortage of skilled employees.

“There are plenty of mixed signals 10 years into the economic recovery,” Lord said.

“Massachusetts employers face rising wage costs, rising raw-material costs and the challenge of integrating new public-policy mandates such as an increased minimum wage and paid family and medical leave. It’s the right time in the business cycle for state and federal government to follow the lead of the Federal Reserve and pause the imposition of expensive new initiatives.”