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Employer Confidence Surges

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 6, 2016 9:18:57 AM

Employer confidence in Massachusetts surged during November amid a post-election economic rally that saw financial markets rise to record levels and the state unemployment rate drop to 3.3 percent.

BCI.November.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 1.9 points to 58.1 last month, 1.2 points higher than its level in November 2015. The third consecutive monthly increase in employer sentiment reflected across-the-board bullishness about the state and federal economies, along with a strong recovery of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers.

U.S. financial markets rose three percent to record highs in the weeks following the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as president. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the news was even better as the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since April 2001.

“Employers and investors alike put aside their initial concerns about a Trump presidency and decided that the president-elect would prioritize conventional economic growth measures such as infrastructure investment and tax cuts,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“How long will that confidence last? It may depend upon President Trump’s commitment to following through on issues that employers are less likely to support, such as setting aside the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and dismantling federal health-care reform.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

All of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in November.
The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 1.9 points to 59.8, leaving it a healthy 1.5 points ahead of the same time last year. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.8 points to move into optimistic territory for the first time since July.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 79 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.9 points to 56.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.9 points to 59.2. The future outlook was 1.2 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015.

The sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations also strengthened considerably.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.6 points to 59.5, while the Employment Index moved up 2 points to 57.4 and the Sales Index gained 2.7 points.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“The most encouraging element of the November BCI is the degree to which employers are translating their overall optimism about the economy into optimism about their own plans for sales growth and hiring,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and a BEA member.

He noted that manufacturing companies are driving much of the overall rise in business confidence after several years of concern about weakness in overseas export markets in Europe and Asia.

“Optimistic manufacturers are good for the Massachusetts economy,” Clayton-Matthews said.

The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 2.6 points during the month and 4.1 points for the year. Still, the overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 60.1 compared to 56.1 for manufacturing companies.
Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 59.2 than those in the western part of the state at 57.4.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the surprise election of a president with no record in public office upon which to make judgments will make 2017 an uncertain time for Massachusetts employers and the state economy.

“Will President Trump and the Republican Congress succeed in reducing corporate taxes? Will they keep their promise to simplify the regulatory structure? What will the potential scrapping of health-care reform mean to Massachusetts? And will the new president follow through on his intent to end or renegotiate trade agreements important to employers? That’s a lot of uncertainty,” Lord said.

“The good news is that Massachusetts remains one of the strongest state economies in the nation thanks to years of sound fiscal management and attention by elected officials to the needs of employers. We have every expectation that Governor Baker and the Legislature will follow the same course in 2017-2018.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Donald Trump

Employer Confidence Rebounds in September

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 4, 2016 9:17:07 AM

Business confidence broke a three-month slide during September as Massachusetts employers, particularly in the service sector, discovered newfound optimism in their own business operations.

BCI.September.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 1.8 points to 55.9 last month, the same level recorded 12 months earlier. The increase was driven by a 3.1-point surge in the Company Index, which reflects overall business conditions at employer companies, and similar jumps in readings based on employment and sales.

The uptick came as the Federal Reserve continued to suggest that the economy is strong enough to raise interest rates before the end of the year.

“Employers remain ambivalent about both the U.S. and national economies ahead of the presidential election, but companies clearly have regained a sense of buoyancy about their own futures,” said Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a member of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

“Large increases in the sales and employment indexes bode well for a Massachusetts economy that already enjoys a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators Mixed

The sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were mixed during September.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, shed 0.3 points during the month, but gained 2.3 points over the year to 57.0. The U.S. Index of national business conditions remained slightly pessimistic, dropping 0.4 points to 49.2, 1.4 points lower than its level of a year ago.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 77 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.3 points to 55.7 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.1 points to 56.0. The future view is a point higher than it was in September 2015.

Operational Views Strengthen

The 3.1-point increase in the Company Index reflected a surge of 3.8 points in the Sales Index to 58.1 and a 1.9-point jump in the Employment Index to 54.5. The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 38 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Non-manufacturing companies maintain a significantly brighter outlook than manufacturers. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 61.1 compared to 50.9 for manufacturing companies.

“The uptick in employer assessments of their own prospects comes as welcome news following three consecutive months of declines. At the same time, manufacturers continue to struggle with economic weakness in key export markets,” said Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company and a BEA member.

The Economy and the Election

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the 2016 presidential election has become a referendum on the degree to which the economic recovery is benefitting middle-income Americans.

“Peter Canellos, Executive Editor of Politico, told the AIM Executive Forum on September 16 that the legacy of the 2016 campaign will be an ongoing debate about the economic future of blue-collar, middle-class workers who have not felt the benefits of the recovery. It is incumbent upon all of us to create an economic that encourages the development of jobs across all sectors to train people effectively for those jobs,” Lord said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Business Confidence Falls for Third Consecutive Month

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 6, 2016 8:59:22 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers fell for a third consecutive month during August as companies remained uncertain about the vigor and durability of the economic recovery.

BCI.August.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) declined one point to 54.1 last month, leaving it three full points lower than in August 2015. The confidence reading remained above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook, but optimism dimmed sharply on current economic conditions and employers’ outlook on their own companies.

The employer confidence readings are consistent with a recent weakening of consumer confidence in Massachusetts. The Mass Insight Consumer Confidence Index slid 10 points during the third quarter.

“The national and state economies continue to improve, but without the kind of momentum we have seen in previous recoveries. So employers remain confident overall, but circumspect,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“One potential red flag is the degree to which employer confidence in their own companies has weakened during the past several months.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were mixed during August.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose 0.1 points during the month and 0.6 points over the year to 57.3. The U.S. Index of national business conditions, in contrast, dropped 0.7 points into pessimistic territory at 49.6 – 1.1 points lower than its level of a year ago.

Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 76 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, plunged 1.9 points to 53.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.1 points to 54.89

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations were also mixed.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 1.3 points to 54.6, while the Sales Index lost 1.3 points to 54.3. The Employment Index managed a 0.1-point increase to 52.6.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“Employer assessments of their own prospects and of current conditions have declined 4.8 points during the past 12 months and that is cause for some concern. The good news is that while employers' beliefs about future conditions are also declining, they are more bullish about future conditions than present ones,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member.

Non-manufacturing companies continued to enjoy a significantly brighter outlook at 57.4 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 51.2. One surprising development was that confidence levels that normally run higher in Great Boston than in the rest of the commonwealth were the same statewide during August at 54.3.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, called upon the two major presidential candidates to address the fragile nature of the economic recovery and offer specific plans for long-term economic expansion.

“The August Business Confidence Index is really a statement that employers are seeking leadership from the state and federal governments on issues like trade, taxes and economic growth,” Lord said.

“The election of the president and members of Congress is about the economic future of the nation and the ability of employers to create jobs and opportunity for people who need them.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Employer Confidence Falls Again in July

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Aug 2, 2016 9:19:26 AM

A resurgent US stock market, better-than-expected job growth and growing labor-force participation failed to make believers of Massachusetts employers during July as business confidence fell for a second consecutive month.

BCI.July.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) declined one point to 55.1 last month, leaving it more than four full points lower than in July 2015. The confidence reading remained above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook, but optimism dimmed across the board on employment, the Massachusetts economy and employers’ outlook on their own companies.

The BCI has now declined in three of the past four months.

Economists suggest that employers may be caught between the expectation of an expanding US economy and concern about anemic growth and instability overseas. It’s a paradox that has resulted in the stock and bond markets, which usually move in opposite directions, rising in tandem this year.

“We see a familiar pattern in what is now the fourth longest economic expansion since World War II - employers remain optimistic about the state of the economy but it is an optimism marked by fits and starts and reactions to all sorts of political and economic events,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators Fall  

Most of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer declined during July.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, dropped 1.3 points during July and 0.3 points over the year to 57.2. The U.S. Index of national business conditions, in contrast, bucked the downward trend of the past year (in which it dropped 3.0 points) by gaining 1.5 points. Even so, employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 75 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.2 points to 55.3 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, slid 1.8 points to 54.8.

“July marked the first time since September 2015 that employers were more positive about current conditions than those six months from now. It’s something to watch, since confidence drives employer decisions on hiring and investment moving forward,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Northeast Economic Analysis Group LLC.

“It’s also worth noting that employer confidence in their own companies has declined by 5.8 points, albeit from a high level, during the past 12 months.”

Operational Views Dim

Indeed, the three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations all weakened.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 1.8 points to 55.9, while the Sales Index lost 1.4 points to 55.6 and the Employment Index dropped 2.0 points to 52.5.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.  

“A tightening labor market is finally beginning to put upward pressure on wage growth as employers compete for skilled workers,” said Professor Michael D. Goodman, Executive Director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) at UMass Dartmouth.

“Wages rose 2.6 percent for the 12 months ended in June, the fastest annual growth rate since 2009. While this is welcome news for the state’s working families, whose wages have been stagnant for an extended period, it represents a challenge for those employers with limited pricing power who can expect it to be increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain the labor they need to support expected growth in coming months. ”

 Confidence levels in July were higher in Greater Boston (56.8) than in the rest of the commonwealth (52.2).  Non-manufacturing companies enjoyed a significantly brighter outlook at 58.0 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 52.6. 

Beacon Hill and Business

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said employers should take encouragement from the moderate approach to business issues taken by state lawmakers during the two-year legislative session that ended Sunday night. Beacon Hill balanced a difficult budget with no tax increases, passed economic development and energy legislation, and developed a consensus pay-equity measure that balances the needs of employers and workers.

“The Legislature and the Baker Administration again showed an understanding of the factors that contribute to business growth and job creation,” Lord said.

“We give particular credit to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who forged meaningful compromises on pay-equity, non-compete agreements and other key issues.”

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Uncertainty Weakens Business Confidence

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jul 5, 2016 7:30:00 AM

A month of economic uncertainty punctuated by weak US job growth and the United Kingdom’s impending exit from the European Union drove Massachusetts employer confidence lower during June.

BCI.June.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) fell 1.6 points to 56.1 as employers took an increasingly bearish view of the US economy. At the same time, the confidence reading remained comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook. Taken quarterly, confidence rose from 55.8 during the first three months of the year to 56.7 during April, May and June.

The June survey of employers overlapped by a few days the landmark vote in Great Britain the leave the European Union, an outcome that caused financial gyrations and concern about US exports in the face of a rising dollar. The confidence readings also came in the wake of the slowest pace of job creation in the US since 2010.

“Massachusetts employers are trying to balance a range of economic and political distractions that pull them in different directions month to month,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The good news is that employers remain highly confident in the Massachusetts economy and in the prospects for their own companies.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators Fall

All the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer declined slightly during June after rising to a 10-month high in May.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, dropped a modest 0.8 points to 58.5, up 1.6 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions plunged three points to 48.8. Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 74 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, lost 1.9 points to 55.5 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.5 points to 56.6.

“Despite concerns about the potential effect of a strong dollar on exports, employers continue to believe that Massachusetts has the type of economy that will ride out all the global uncertainty,” said Barry Bluestone, Stearns Trustee Professor of Political Economy Northeastern University.

“As long as the key industries of the Massachusetts economy - health care, higher education, financial services, bioscience and tourism - continue to grow as a share of national and world GDP, the economy of the Commonwealth will be reasonably sound for the majority of households in the state. The challenge is how to spread this prosperity to more households.”

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations all weakened.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 1.5 points to 57.7, while the Sales Index dropped 2.8 points to 57.0 and the Employment Index lost 0.6 points to 54.5.

“Uncertainty of the sort created by the Brexit vote certainly impedes investment decisions, and with few signs of any pickup in the global economy we're probably going to see a slower rebound in capital spending," said Sara Johnson, senior research director of global economics with IHS Global Insight.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Confidence levels in June were higher in Greater Boston (58.9) than in the rest of the commonwealth (55.6). Non-manufacturing companies enjoyed a significantly brighter outlook at 59.5 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 54.38

Politics and Economics

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said the Brexit vote underscores the profound effect that political discourse has on the global economic outlook. It’s a pertinent lesson for Massachusetts as the Baker Administration and Beacon Hill lawmakers wrestle with both a billion-dollar budget deficit and critical debates on energy, wage equity and the use of non-compete agreements.

“The sustained optimism that Massachusetts employers have shown toward the state economy reflects the ability of the Legislature and several administrations to maintain disciplined fiscal policy while creating an environment that allows employers to grow,” Lord said.

“We look forward to working with policymakers to continue that record as the two-year legislative session ends next month.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Employer Confidence Surges in May

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jun 7, 2016 9:30:00 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose to a 10-month high during May as the state approached full employment despite persistent mixed signals from the national economy.

BCI.May.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index rose 1.5 points during May to 57.7, the highest level since July 2015. The reading was slightly higher than the 57.3 level posted a year ago and comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook.

The brightening outlook came amid growing evidence that the US economy is regaining its footing after a 0.8 percent growth rate during the first quarter. Recent reports on retail sales, housing starts and industrial production paint an upbeat picture of the economy in the second quarter.

At the same time, the government reported on Friday that the US economy created just 38,000 jobs during May, the slowest pace since 2010.

“Massachusetts employers appear to have shaken off the uncertainty of the fall and winter and are now feeling optimistic about the remainder of 2016,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The most encouraging news is that every constituent measure contained in the Business Confidence Index rose during May and most were higher than they were a year ago.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, surged 2 points to 59.3 in April, up 3.4 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 1.3 points to 51.8. Employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 73 consecutive months.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 2.2 points to 57.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 0.8 points to 58.1

“Confidence among Massachusetts employers appears to be rising in lockstep with consumer confidence, which Mass Insight reported last week hit a 10-year high during the second quarter,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member.

“The Massachusetts economy grew faster than the nation during the first quarter of 2016 and is now approaching full employment with a jobless rate of 4.2 percent – no surprise to employers who continue to struggle with a shortage of skilled workers.”

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations all advanced.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 59.2, while the Sales Index increased 1.9 points to 59.8 and the Employment Index jumped 0.9 points to 55.1.

“Massachusetts continues to enjoy healthy job growth because of the commonwealth’s favorable industry mix - especially the health, education, advanced manufacturing, and high-tech segments of professional and business services,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.
The survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

Confidence levels in February were higher in Greater Boston (59.5) than in the rest of the commonwealth (56.1). Non-manufacturing companies enjoyed a significantly brighter outlook at 62.7 than manufacturing employers, who posted an overall confidence level of 54.3.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said Beacon Hill lawmakers will have a profound influence on the economic fortunes of Massachusetts as the 2015-2016 legislative session draws to a close.

“The Legislature and the Baker administration continue to exercise the type of predictable fiscal discipline that employers value as they look to grow and expand,” Lord said.

“At the same time, the end of the legislative session includes bills on energy, wage equity and paid leave that are cause for concern among employers.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

Employer Confidence Strengthens in March

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 5, 2016 1:52:48 PM

Massachusetts employers grew more confident during March as turbulence in China and other key global markets subsided.

BCI.March.2016.jpgAt the same time, a significant gap has developed between the bullish outlook of service companies and a less optimistic view among manufacturers that is also reflective of national developments.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.4 points to 56.5 last month, its highest level since November and well above the 50 mark that denotes a positive economic outlook.

The index for service companies and other non-manufacturers increased to 61.3 while the manufacturing index fell to 52.2, down 7.1 points from its level in March 2015.

The results come a week after the state announced that the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent during February and that employers added 14,400 jobs during the first two months of the year.

“The good news is that the Massachusetts and US economies have proven remarkably resilient in the face of weak growth globally that unsettled financial markets at the beginning of the year,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“What happens next? Employers here in Massachusetts appear to be generally optimistic about their prospects during the next six months, though the outlook among manufacturers remains muted by global uncertainty, weakening corporate earnings, the strength of the dollar and rising credit risk.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Virtually all the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer increased during March after dropping the previous month. The only categories to lose ground during March were Employment and Sales.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 1.1 points to 57.5 in March, down 3.3 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions narrowly climbed back into optimistic territory, rising 3.4 points for the month to 50.8.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 0.6 points to 54.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.2 points to 58.1.

“Employers now view the future more positively than current conditions - typically a harbinger of their willingness to invest and grow,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Northeast Economic Analysis Group LLC and a BEA member.

“Add to that the fact that these employers have now been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 71 consecutive months and it bodes well for the near-term future of the commonwealth.”

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations were mixed in March.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.8 points to 58.1, but the Sales Index slid 0.2 points to 57.9 and the Employment Index declined by the same 0.2 points to 54.5.

The survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“Employers continue to feel good about their own companies, but their view of leading indicators such as sales and employment is sobering. The AIM survey suggests that employers are set to proceed carefully on growing payrolls the rest of the year,” said Michael D. Goodman, Ph.D., Executive Director, the Public Policy Center (PPC) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Confidence levels in February were higher in Greater Boston (58.9) than in the rest of the commonwealth (52.0).

Employers of all sizes recorded positive confidence levels, with the mid-size group lagging behind both larger and smaller companies. 

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said that the plans announced yesterday by GeneralElectric to move its corporate headquarters and some research operations to the South Boston waterfront cannot help but brighten the outlook of the Massachusetts economy.

The move also underscores the importance of state policy that encourages innovation and business formation.

“The ultimate lesson of the GE move is that business costs really do matter. Taxes matter. Fiscal discipline matters. Efficient regulation matters. Work force matters,” Lord said.

“And jobs matter. The creation of a job and a person’s ability to do it weaves together every important aspect of social and economic stability – the desire for a better life, the ability to support a family, the confidence to start a business, and the need to support efficient government management of services such as education, health care, and public safety.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Employer Confidence Weakens in February

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 1, 2016 11:16:49 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers weakened for the fifth time in seven months during February, but businesses remain optimistic overall about the ability of the Massachusetts economy to ride out uncertainty abroad and an increasingly curious election season in the United States.

BCI.February.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index shed 0.7 points to 55.1 last month, still comfortably above the 50 mark that denotes a positive economic outlook.

However, the reading was 4.7 points below its level of a year earlier, weighed down by growing concern about the slowing U.S. economy. That concern was confirmed Friday when the government said U.S. economic growth slowed to 1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015.

“We’re seeing some ambivalence among employers as they look at the economy, especially the turmoil in some overseas markets, but all within the range of general optimism about 2016,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Ambivalence indeed seems to define most views of the US economy, as we saw last week when the annual Economic Report of the President noted the strong rebound since 2008 while acknowledging that economic forces, including the rapid pace of technological change, are weighing on American industry.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

National, State Indicators Decline

Virtually all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer declined during February and dropped significantly from their levels of February 2015.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, slid 1.7 points to 56.4 in February, down 3.4 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions remained in negative territory, declining by 2.5 points to 47.4 for the month and by almost eight points during the past year.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, dropped by 0.3 points, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 1.1 points to 55.9.

"Employer views of current conditions and future prospects are almost identical, unlike a year ago when companies were more upbeat looking forward. The February 2016 survey reflects an environment of global uncertainty, characterized by financial market volatility, weakening corporate earnings, and rising credit risk,” said Sara L. Johnson, Senior Research Director, Global Economics, IHS Global Insight and a BEA member.

Operational Views Strengthen

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations strengthened in February.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.3 points to 57.3, while the Sales Index surged a full point to 58.1. The Employment Index declined slightly by 0.2 points to 54.7.

“Companies feel pretty good when they look at their own prospects and hiring plans,” said Barry Bluestone, Professor of Political Economy at Northeastern University.

The survey found that 38.8 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were even stronger – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“Once you get past the immediate economic issues, the real story of the Massachusetts economy will be the ability of these growing employers to find people with the skills and education needed for the high-value jobs that are being created,” Bluestone said.

Confidence levels in February were higher in Greater Boston (52.5) than in the rest of the commonwealth (49.4). Employers in the manufacturing sector continued to be less positive (52.1, -1.7) than other employers (58.3, -0.1).
Employers of all sizes recorded positive confidence levels, with the mid-size group lagging behind both larger and smaller companies.

Government Actions Key to Business Climate

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said the February Index underscores both the underlying resilience of the Massachusetts economy and the persistent challenge of ensuring that economic growth benefits all areas of the state.

Noting the difference in confidence levels inside the Boston/Cambridge technology corridor and the rest of the state, Lord said, “How do we as a ‘common wealth’ address the widening imbalance between the economically thriving economy of Greater Boston and the more traditional economy that dominates the commonwealth from Route 495 to Berkshire County?

“The economy outside Boston depends for its growth upon an industry mix that is far more affected by the high cost structure and heavy regulatory tradition of Massachusetts. That is why it is so important for Beacon Hill lawmakers to be vigilant about controlling the costs of energy, health care and other factors that drive job creation.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Employers Remain Optimistic, Despite Market Volatility

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 2, 2016 9:38:18 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers remained steady during January as optimism about the state economy offset uncertainty about China and turbulent financial markets.

BCI.January.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 0.5 points to 55.8 last month, starting 2016 well above the 50 mark that denotes a positive economic outlook. The increase was driven by a 1.8-point surge in the index measuring employer attitudes about Massachusetts.

Confidence remained lower than it was in January 2015.

“The fact that employer confidence remained solid during a month in which the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was at one point off 9 percent and oil dropped below $27 a barrel points to the fundamental, underlying strength of the Massachusetts economy,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The Massachusetts Index has been above its national counterpart for 80 consecutive months, and that perception was bolstered by the decision in January by General Electric to locate its corporate headquarters in Boston. GE’s decision was important, not only for the 800 jobs it will bring, but because the company cited Massachusetts’ leadership in knowledge industries as its reason for coming.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index ended 2015 down for the year, but remained consistently in optimistic territory for the first 12-month period since the Great Recession.

State Indicator Leads National Counterpart

Most of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer rose a point or two in January, though all remained down year-over-year.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, jumped 1.8 points to 58.1, starting the year more than a point lower than last January. The U.S. Index of national business conditions slipped to 49.9 on the month, leaving it more than four points lower than a year ago.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased slightly to 54.6, while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose almost a full point to 57.0.

“Employers clearly do not believe that the correction in financial markets signals an overall economic slowdown,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, Associated Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University and a BEA member.

“Massachusetts employers foresee positive business conditions through at least the first half of 2016, and that comports with economic forecasts that Massachusetts will reach full employment during the year.”

Employment Strengthening in 2016

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations were mixed in January.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, was up 0.3 points at 57.0; the Sales Index shed 1.1 points to 57.1; and the Employment Index rose 1.3 points to 55.1.

“The increase in the Employment Index is good news for Massachusetts. Our survey found that 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, another BEA member.

“Expectations for the next six months were even stronger – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.”

Confidence levels in December were similar outside Greater Boston (56.3, +0.3) and within the metropolitan region (56.6, +1.4). Employers in the manufacturing sector continued to be less positive (53.8, -0.3) than other employers (58.4, +1.2).

“Manufacturing is the sector where uncertainty about China and other foreign markets becomes most apparent, though manufacturers remain generally sanguine about the next six months,” Kiel said.

Employers of all sizes recorded positive confidence levels, with the mid-size group lagging behind both larger and smaller companies.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said the positive economic climate that persuaded General Electric to locate in Massachusetts must be preserved going forward.

“GE’s decision to leave Connecticut underscored the fact that taxes and the business environment matter a great deal to companies in their location decisions,” said Lord, who once worked for GE.

“We look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure that employers all over the commonwealth are able to do what they do best during 2016 – invest, grow and create opportunity for the people of Massachusetts.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Employers Maintain Mixed Feelings About Economy

Posted by Andre Mayer on Jan 5, 2016 8:04:12 AM

Massachusetts employers regard the economy with the same mix of emotions that many Patriots fans felt after Sunday’s game in Miami – trending in the wrong direction but still in an enviable place overall.

BCI.December2015.jpgThroughout 2015, every reading of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index was above 55, making this the first time since the Great Recession that the Index remained above a neutral reading of 50 for a full calendar year.

At the same time, the AIM Index shed 1.6 points in December to 55.3 to close 2015 down two points from its level at the end of 2014.

“We had not had a year with readings steadily above 55 since 2004. From that perspective, 2015 was a year of progress for our economy and for the state’s employer community,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

 “We can also look back on 2015 as ‘tilting down year’ in business confidence,“ Torto went on, “because following first-quarter gains the Index saw declines in seven of the last nine months, and ended up in December at its lowest level of 2015. This pattern reflects increasing concern about a myriad of global economic issues including economic stability, especially around China, as well as the impact of weaker export markets combined with a strong dollar.” 

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

Most components of the Business Confidence Index were down a point or two in December and most were down year-over-year.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost two points to 56.3, ending the year up two-tenths from last December. The U.S. Index of national business conditions, at 50.0, was off 1.2 on the month and one-tenth on the year.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, was down 1.6 points at 56.7; the Sales Index shed a point to 58.2; and the Employment Index lost 1.3 to 53.6.

“Our survey found the employment trend weakening in the second half of 2015 as 28 percent of respondents reported adding staff while 21 percent reduced employment,” said Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company, a BEA member.

“Expectations for the next six months were somewhat stronger – 26 percent hiring and only 13 percent downsizing. On a special question about capital investment, 42 percent of respondents expected an increase in 2016 compared to 2015, and 46 percent expected about the same level of expenditure.”  

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

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