NFIB Small Business Survey: Optimism Remains High in February

The latest issue of the NFIB Small Business Economic Trends came out this morning. The headline number for February came in at 105.3, down 0.6 from the previous month's 105.9, and just under its interim high. The index is at the 98th percentile in this series. Today's number came in below the Investing.com forecast of 106.1.

Here is an excerpt from the opening summary of the news release.

Small business optimism remained at one of its highest readings in 43 years, as small business awaits a new healthcare law, tax reform, and regulatory relief from Washington, according to the February National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index, released today.

“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. “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.”

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. Three of the ten components increased, six declined modestly, and one was unchanged. Despite a small decrease, nearly half of owners expect better business conditions in the coming months.

The first chart below highlights the 1986 baseline level of 100 and includes some labels to help us visualize that dramatic change in small-business sentiment that accompanied the Great Financial Crisis. Compare, for example, the relative resilience of the index during the 2000-2003 collapse of the Tech Bubble with the far weaker readings following the Great Recession that ended in June 2009.

NFIB Optimism Index

Here is a closer look at the indicator since the turn of the century. We are now just below the post-recession interim high.

NFIB Optimism Index Since 2000

The average monthly change in this indicator is 1.3 points. To smooth out the noise of volatility, here is a 3-month moving average of the Optimism Index along with the monthly values, shown as dots.

NFIB Optimism Index Moving Average