Small and Midsize Business Confidence Falls As Uncertainty Persists

Hiring Remains Strong amid Slowdown in Economic Growth and Continued Inflation

 Small and midsize business (SMB) CEO confidence dropped to 84.3 in the first quarter of 2022, according to the latest CEO Confidence Index from Vistage, a CEO coaching and peer advisory organization.

Vistage’s quarterly CEO Confidence Index, which measures SMB leaders’ sentiment on various economic and business factors each quarter, saw a 13.6% decline from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022, accompanied by growing concern about the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the U.S. economy. 14% of respondents do not expect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will have an impact on their business, while nearly half (45%) anticipate a direct impact.

“We have not seen CEO confidence dip this low since the beginning of the novel Coronavirus pandemic in 2020,” said Joe Galvin, Vistage’s chief research officer. “This sharp reduction in optimism is the direct result of prolonged uncertainty in the form of inflation, hiring challenges and supply chain/shipping difficulties, which has been further intensified by the potential domestic economic impact of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. While 41% of small business CEOs said they were uncertain how the invasion will impact their business, we have already started to feel impacts on the U.S. economy through heightened energy costs.”

Survey highlights include:

Hiring Remains a Priority

  • 65% of SMB CEOs reported they expect to increase their workforce in the year ahead
  • 72% said hiring challenges are impacting their ability to operate at full capacity
  • For those having trouble hiring: 79% are boosting wages, 65% are developing the existing workforce, and 55% are refining recruitment strategies

Economic Growth Slowdown

  • 47% of SMB CEOs report the U.S. economy has worsened, compared to a year ago
    • 30% said it has improved, and 23% said it has remained the same
  • 48% believe the economic conditions will worsen over the next 12 months
    • This is the highest level of pessimism recorded by Vistage since 2008 near the bottom of the Great Recession
    • 15% said economic conditions will improve, and 33% said they will remain the same

Declines in Revenues and Profits

  • 68% of SMB CEOs expect increased revenues in the year ahead, down from 74% in Q4 2021
  • 44% expect higher profits in the year ahead
    • Worse profit outlooks have only been seen two times in the 19 years Vistage has surveyed SMB CEOS:

1) The pandemic shutdown (Q2 2020)
2) The Great Recession (2008-2009)

  • Meanwhile, 83% expect to increase prices for their product/service in the next year

Inflation and Supply Chain

  • When asked which aspects of transportation are presenting challenges for their business, 88% of SMB CEOs said increased transportation costs, followed by shipping (69%) and trucking or ground transportation (68%)
  • When asked about the effects of inflation on their business:
    • 87% said wages and compensation had increased
    • 81% cited increased prices from vendors
    • 62% reported higher costs for raw materials
    • 57% experienced higher energy prices

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Carl Fox