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Middle Market Confidence in U.S. Economy Reaches Record High

July 24, 2014, 07:44 AM
Filed Under: Economy

Business leaders representing the nation’s nearly 200,000 mid-sized firms are bullish about the U.S. economy, fueled by consistently strong revenue growth. In fact, middle market companies grew revenue over the past 12 months at 6.6 percent, nearly twice as fast as the S&P 500 at 3.4 percent. This strength boosted executive confidence in the U.S. economy to a record high of 68 percent, according to the latest Middle Market Indicator (MMI), a quarterly survey of 1,000 C-suite executives conducted by the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM). These results suggest continued growth for the nation’s economy despite the first-quarter drop in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).

The U.S. middle market, made up of businesses with revenue between $10 million and $1 billion, contributes one-third of non-government U.S. GDP and accounts for 45.6 million jobs, or one-third of private U.S. employment. Employment growth for mid-market firms over the past 12 months was 3.2 percent, which added an estimated 750,000 jobs to U.S. payrolls so far in 2014. If mid-market companies deliver on projected job growth of 3.3 percent, the sector will create 59 percent of all new jobs in 2014.

“For the second quarter in a row, U.S. middle market companies turned in exceptionally strong growth in revenue along with solid gains in employment,” said Thomas A. Stewart, Executive Director, NCMM, a collaboration between GE Capital and The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. “Mid-market executives seem to be determined to translate revenue increases into solid productivity improvements by holding the line on investments in capital and labor both.”

According the latest MMI, 70 percent of mid-market executives expect to see revenue growth in the next year, an 11 point jump from the prior quarter. Furthermore, about a quarter of these executives expect to see revenue growth above 10 percent. This confidence boosted revenue growth projections to 5.8 percent, lifting the outlook by $130B compared to the prior survey.

Mid-sized firms continue to invest in future growth, with 63 percent planning to put money back into their businesses. Business executives are focusing their investments on capital expenditures for plant and equipment as well as information technology.

Challenges Persist

Health care costs remain the number one concern for middle market executives, with 54 percent rating this issue as “highly challenging” after dipping to 46 percent last quarter. The retail trade and services industries in particular have increasing concerns about health care. About 67 percent of mid-market retail executives report health care is “highly challenging,” a jump from 42 percent in the prior quarter. About 49% of services leaders from mid-sized firms characterized health care as “highly challenging,” compared with 36 percent in the prior quarter.

Middle-market executives also expressed concerns about government actions. Half of business leaders surveyed report that the regulatory environment is more restrictive now than it was a year ago. Uncertainty about corporate tax policies is a growing issue for the middle market this quarter, with 20 percent citing it as “highly challenging,” up from 13 percent last quarter and suggesting concern over lawmakers’ ability to compromise on tax reform.

Industry Bright Spots

The manufacturing and health care sectors saw increased performance over the last year. Seventy-two percent of mid-sized manufacturers reported higher revenue growth, with an average year-over-year growth rate of 7.3 percent, and 68 percent of health care executives said their revenues increased, a jump of 16 points.

Looking ahead, four mid-market industry sectors are particularly optimistic about their prospects over the next 12 months, with three out of four saying they will growth revenue well above the national average: construction (8.1 percent), services (8 percent), manufacturing (7.2 percent), and financial services (6.7 percent). Mid-sized construction firms plan to hire new employees at a rate of 5.1 percent over the next 12 months.

About the Middle Market Indicator

The MMI surveys 1,000 executives (CEOs, CFOs, and other C-Suite executives) from the middle market's nearly 200,000 companies, focusing on their business capabilities and performance, growth drivers, and economic outlook. This quarter’s MMI was fielded June 9 to 18, 2014. It is weighted to accurately reflect the size and geographic distribution of this sector, which includes companies with revenues between $10 million and $1 billion.

The quarterly MMI tracks responses on the following topics: Gross revenues performance; Overall company performance; Employment performance; Expected 12-month gross revenue and employment growth; Confidence in the global, U.S. and local economy; Key business challenges; Top areas for investment dollars; Perceptions on topical issues and challenges relevant to the U.S. middle market.

The survey is conducted by the independent research firm RTi on behalf of the NCMM.

The National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM) was founded in 2011 in partnership with GE Capital and is located at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The Center is the nation’s leading research institution dedicated to helping middle market companies be more competitive through impactful research, thoughtful advocacy, and educational programs.

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