January 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM EST
Wells Fargo Small Business Index: Business Owners More Optimistic to Start 2013

After the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index dropped to the most pessimistic level in two years in November, business owners are more optimistic as 2013 begins. The latest Index improved 20 points to positive 9 (+9) in January 2013, up from negative 11 (-11) in November 2012, indicating an improvement in optimism since the November elections. Key drivers of this improvement in the survey, conducted Jan. 7-11, 2013, include increased business owner optimism about revenues, capital spending, and jobs over the past 12 months and more optimism about their overall financial situation, revenues, cash flow, and jobs over the next 12 months. A year ago, in January 2012, the Index was at positive 15 (+15).

While optimism improved from the fourth quarter, the survey paints a mixed picture with respect to jobs and hiring. More business owners (71 percent) expect the number of jobs at their companies to stay the same over the next 12 months, and business owners planning to add jobs during the same period remained unchanged at 17 percent. Among those who hired new employees the past 12 months, 35 percent of owners are hiring fewer employees than they need, up from 29 percent in January 2012, but below the 42 percent of November 2010.

“At a time when news headlines report mixed economic news and uncertainty in Washington, our survey shows the volatility of business owner sentiment today,” said Doug Case, Small Business Segment manager for Wells Fargo. “Business owners are feeling a bit more positive at the beginning of the year, but they also express concern about the operating environment that could impact future business decisions, such as hiring new employees.”

Small Business Hiring

This quarter, the Index survey included additional questions on hiring and jobs. When small business owners who are not hiring were asked for the reason, the top responses were:

  • Don’t need additional employees at this time (81 percent)
  • Worried about the revenues and sales to justify new employees (74 percent)
  • Concerned about the status of the U.S. economy (66 percent)
  • Worried about the potential cost of health care (61 percent)

The number of small business owners saying they are not hiring for fear they may no longer be in business in 12 months increased to 30 percent in January up from 24 percent from one year ago.

The top reasons small business owners say they are hiring include:

  • Increased consumer or business demand (70 percent)
  • Expanding their business operations (68 percent)

When looking for new employees, 63 percent of small business owners report using word-of-mouth and 47 percent employee referrals. Twenty-three percent of owners say it is very difficult and another 30 percent say it is somewhat difficult to find qualified employees – about the same as in January 2012. Twenty-seven percent of owners say the difficulty of finding qualified employees has hurt their business over the past 12 months, up from 21 percent a year ago.

Forty percent of owners say they would look for temporary or contract workers when hiring while 36 percent say they would seek part-time employees, and 22 percent full-time employees. When they can’t afford to hire new employees, 28 percent of owners say they turn to their spouse for unpaid help, 14 percent turn to their children, 13 percent to a friend, 7 percent to another relative, and 6 percent to a student.

Small Business Index Key Drivers

Wells Fargo, together with Gallup, surveys small business owners quarterly across the nation to gauge their perceptions of their present situations (past 12 months) and future expectations (next 12 months) in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring, and credit availability.

Index Scores: Q1 2012 – Q1 2013

Overall Index ScorePresent SituationFuture Expectations
Q1 2013

(surveyed January 2013)

9 -2 11
Q4 2012

(surveyed November 2012)

-11 -10 -1
Q3 2012

(surveyed July 2012)

17 -1 18
Q2 2012

(surveyed April 2012)

23 -1 24
Q1 2012

(surveyed January 2012)

15 -6 21

The January upturn in the Index was impacted by improvement in both Future Expectations of 12 points and an 8-point rise in Present Situation. Substantial changes were seen in several survey components:

Present Situation (past 12 months)

  • Revenues – 36 percent say company revenues increased, up from 29 percent in Q4 2012
  • Jobs – 22 percent say their company decreased their number of employees, compared with 26 percent in Q4 2012
  • Capital Spending – 25 percent say their company increased their capital spending, up from 18 percent in Q4 2012

Future Expectations (next 12 months)

  • Overall financial situation – 57 percent expect their company’s financial situation to be very or somewhat good, up from 50 percent in Q4 2012
  • Revenues – 43 percent expect company revenues to increase, up from 37 percent in
    Q4 2012
  • Cash Flow – 49 percent expect their cash flow to be very or somewhat good, up from
    44 percent in Q4 2012
  • Jobs – 12 percent expect their company to decrease their number of employees, compared with 21 percent in Q4 2012

The majority of small business owners surveyed also say health care costs (54 percent) and taxes (53 percent) are hurting their operating environment “a lot.” These two responses topped energy prices (47 percent), government regulations (46 percent), the federal debt ceiling (40 percent) and availability of credit (25 percent).

More information on the survey is available on the Small Business Index section of Wells Fargo’s Business Insight Resource Center at www.wellsfargobusinessinsights.com/small-business-index.

About the Small Business Index

Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small business owners on current and future perceptions of their business financial situation. The Index consists of two dimensions: 1) Owners’ ratings of the current situation of their businesses and, 2) Owners’ ratings of how they expect their businesses to perform over the next 12 months. Results are based on telephone interviews with 601 small business owners in all 50 United States conducted Jan. 7-11, 2013. The overall Small Business Index is computed using a formula that scores and sums the answers to 12 questions — six about the present situation and six about the future. An Index score of zero indicates that small business owners, as a group, are neutral -- neither optimistic nor pessimistic -- about their companies’ situations. The overall Index can range from -400 (the most negative score possible) to +400 (the most positive score possible), but in practice spans a much more limited range. The margin of sampling error is +/- four percentage points.

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.4 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 9,000 stores, 12,000 ATMs, the Internet (wellsfargo.com), and has offices in more than 35 countries to support the bank’s customers who conduct business in the global economy. With more than 265,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 26 on Fortune’s 2012 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.

Wells Fargo loans more money to America’s small businesses than any other bank (2002-2011 Community Reinvestment Act government data) and is a leading lender to women- and diverse-owned businesses. With the nation’s largest network of retail banking stores, and an award-winning online library of videos, articles and webcasts known as the Business Insight Series (www.wellsfargobusinessinsights.com), Wells Fargo provides business owners with timely advice and information to educate and help them succeed financially. For more information, or to speak with a Wells Fargo banker, visit wellsfargo.com/biz or call the National Business Banking Center at 1-800-CALL-WELLS.

About Gallup

For more than 70 years, Gallup has been a recognized leader in the measurement and analysis of people’s attitudes, opinions and behavior. While best known for the Gallup Poll, founded in 1935, Gallup’s current activities consist largely of providing marketing and management research, advisory services and education to the world’s largest corporations and institutions.

Note: Complete survey results available upon request.

Contacts:

Wells Fargo & Company
Jim Seitz, 612-316-2447 (Media)
jim.seitz@wellsfargo.com
Jennifer Langan, 213-253-3452
jennifer.l.langan@wellsfargo.com
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