Small business confidence holding steady: CFIB

Manitoba leads way while Atlantic Canada less optimistic

Small and mid-sized business optimism remained upbeat in February, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

The organization’s Business Barometer Index — measured on a scale between zero and 100 — has seen three straight months in the healthy part of the index range. It was at 69.4 in February, up one-half point from January and a shade above last December's reading, found the survey of 903 CFIB members.

"This is easily the most optimistic business owners have been post-recession," said CFIB vice-president and chief economist Ted Mallett. "Short-term expectations are normally strong this time of year when many businesses start planning for the spring and summer seasons, but this February's indications are even stronger than February 2010."

Among the provinces, business owners in Manitoba lead the way with an index at 74.2, though six other provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — registered scores above 70 in February. With Ontario only slightly behind that threshold at 69, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are the national problem spots with index scores at 59 and 65.4 respectively, both down from January levels.

Business optimism also appears well-balanced by sector and by region. Business owners in the health and natural resources sectors lead the way with index levels in the mid-70s while those in manufacturing, wholesale, finance and professional business services also show higher-than-average levels of optimism above the 70 mark. Only slightly behind the average are the retail, construction and agriculture sectors which, together, make up more than one-half of the number of small and medium-sized businesses.

The only industries performing well below potential are hospitality and personal services, with index levels in the 60 to 65 range. Optimism in the transport sector has been tempered by the recent run up in fuel prices, said CFIB.

When it comes to employment plans, 74 per cent of the business owners expect no change in full-time staff levels, along with 71 per cent for part-time levels. Only 16 per cent and 17 per cent expect to increase full- and part-time levels, respectively, found CFIB.

And the main business constraints cited by respondents are insufficient domestic demand (42 per cent), a shortage of skilled labour (31 per cent) and a shortage of working capital (30 per cent), followed by management skills and time constraints (26 per cent).

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