Do you own or manage one of the nearly 28 million small businesses in America? If so, you'd have been exceptionally lucky to have avoided some of the very nasty effects of the credit crunch, recession and slow recovery. Even long-established enterprises struggled to cope as revenues fell while overheads remained stubbornly high. Often staff had to be let go, but even that wasn't always enough keep companies profitable. Meanwhile, traditional borrowing became next to impossible, and many began to carry forward ever-rising balances on small business credit cards. That wasn't ideal, but such considerations become an unaffordable luxury when survival is at stake.
Small businesses turning a corner…
... Or possibly making a handbrake turn. Either way, there are finally signs that the small-business sector is regaining its old health and vitality. January's nonfarm private sector employment figures may have disappointed some experts (though Moody Analytics' chief economist described it as "sturdy," once the exceptional weather had been factored in), but small businesses created 43 percent of all the 175,000 jobs added that month, according to ADP, Inc. That was on top of the 317,000 new jobs small enterprises added in the last quarter of 2013.
Meanwhile, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index found owners of these enterprises to be at their most optimistic for five years. When asked in January about their last 12 months' cash flow, 52 percent said it had been good. That compares with 46 percent who felt that way when the same question was posed in October 2013. Similarly, when asked about their future expectations for cash flow, hiring and revenue, there was significantly more optimism this quarter than last. At the same time, fewer reported problems accessing credit.
That last point was borne out by the latest data from the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index (SBLI). As its name suggests, this uses an index, which started out at 100 in January 2005, to measure the volume of new commercial loans and leases to small enterprises. That index topped 130 in December 2006, and plummeted to a low of 66 in June 2009. In December 2013 it stood at 121. The last time it was that high was in September 2007.