Small business optimism, which soared following Donald Trump’s election day victory, remains near the highest levels recorded in nearly half a century.
The Index of Small Business Optimism declined slightly in February to hit 105.3, sustaining the surge in optimism that began November 9, 2016, the day after the election, the National Federation of Independent Businesses said Tuesday.
“The Index fell 0.6 points in February to 105.3 yet remains a very high reading. The slight decline follows the largest month-over-month increase in the survey’s history in December and another uptick in January,” the NFIB said in a statement. It noted that this is one of the highest readings for small business optimism in 43 years.
While the post-election optimism hasn’t faded, it has not yet translated into an increase in small business spending and hiring. Many small businesses may be waiting to see if the Trump administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill act on promises to cut taxes, reverse the regulatory expansion of the Obama administration and repeal Obamacare.
“It is clear from our data that optimism skyrocketed after the election because small business owners anticipated a change in policy,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan in a statement. “The sustainability of this surge and whether it will lead to actual economic growth depends on Washington’s ability to deliver on the agenda that small business voted for in November. If the health care and tax policy discussions continue without action, optimism will fade.”
Sixty-two percent of small businesses survey reported capital outlays, up 3 points and the second highest reading since 2007. While impressive by post-Great Recession standards, 63 percent is still weaker than historically normal levels. In short, businesses aren’t yet making capital investments in line with their reported optimism.
“Reports of actual outlays appear to be trending up, but still remain well below those observed in ‘good times.’ Growth takes more than optimism, it takes more spending, at least rising to historically normal levels,” the NFIB said.
In short, the Trump economic expansion isn’t inevitable. Too much delay in implementing the agenda could undermine the great boom in optimism produced by President Trump’s election.