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Business Confidence Retreats After Seven-Month Rally

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 2, 2017 9:46:20 AM

Massachusetts employers hit the pause button on a seven-month rally in business confidence during April, but their outlook remained solidly optimistic in the face of mixed political and economic signals.

BCI.April.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 2.2 points to 60.2 last month, 4.0 points higher than its level of a year earlier. Every constituent element of the confidence index lost ground after reaching a 13-year high during March.

The results came as the Massachusetts economy contracted at a 0.5 percent annual rate during the first quarter and the state unemployment rate rose to 3.6 percent.

“We should not be surprised to see confidence readings correct slightly after advancing six points since September,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“It bears watching to determine whether the broad April decline becomes a trend as we move into the summer.”

Analysts believe the numbers may reflect growing concern among employers about the ability of the Trump Administration to deliver the many pro-growth policies it promised during the campaign.

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.

Employers grew less confident about both the overall economy and their own operations during April.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost 0.4 points to 63.3, leaving it 6 points higher than in April 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions shed 2.7 points after gaining ground for the previous sixth months. April marked the 85th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 1.9 points to 59.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 2.5 points to 60.5. The future outlook remained 3.2 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, fell 2.6 points to 60.2. The Employment Index fell 2.8 points to 56.2, and the Sales Index declined 2.1 points to 60.5.

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.

Barry Bluestone, Stearns Trustee Professor of Political Economy at Northeastern University and a BEA member, noted that the Massachusetts economy is running up against tightness in the labor market that makes it difficult for employers to grow.

“The combination of a prolonged economic recovery and the demographics of skilled workers retiring with no one to replace them is creating an impediment to growth for Massachusetts employers. The shortage underscores once again the importance of creating an education and training system that responds to the demands of the economy,” Bluestone said.

The April survey also reversed an unusual result in March when Western Massachusetts companies were more confident than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth. Eastern Massachusetts employers posted a 61.7 confidence reading in April versus 58 for employers in the western part of the state.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said employer confidence is also facing headwinds from accelerating health-care and health-insurance costs. Massachusetts has exceeded its objective for health-care spending in each of the past two years and employers continue to pay some of the highest costs in the nation.

“The good news is that Massachusetts is beginning to identify some answers. And there appears to be enough common ground and political will on the issue to pursue some solutions,” Lord said.

“New research conducted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission suggests that Massachusetts employers, insurers and policymakers could reduce total health-care expenditures anywhere from $279 million per year to $794 million per year, or 0.5 to 1.3 percent, by making several key improvements to the health-care system.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Employer Confidence Rises Again in March

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 4, 2017 8:47:09 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence inched higher during March amid a swirl of contradictory economic and political signals.

BCI.March.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) increased 0.3 points to 62.4 last month, 5.9 points higher than its level of a year earlier and the highest reading since August 2004. The seventh consecutive monthly improvement reflected an increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions, which has risen 9.1 points during the previous year, and a bullish overall view of current conditions.

The results came as the government announced that the U.S. economy grew in the fourth quarter at a faster pace than previously reported on higher consumer spending. At the same time, the Massachusetts unemployment rate rose to 3.4 percent as employers created jobs at an annual pace of 57,700.

“Massachusetts employers remain broadly confident about both the state and national economies,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Slight declines in the Employment Index, the Manufacturing Index and projections about the economy six months from now perhaps reflect some of the uncertainty about the direction of economic policy in Washington.”

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 March.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose 0.5 points to 63.7, leaving it 6.2 points higher than in March 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions gained ground for the sixth consecutive month. Views of the national economy rose one point to 59.9. Still, February marked the 83rd consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, surged 1.9 points to 61.8 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, lost 1.4 points to 63.0. The future outlook was 4.9 points higher than a year ago.

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, remained unchanged from February at 62.8. The Employment Index fell 1.4 points to 60.4, but the Sales Index gained 1.1 points to 62.6.

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.

One of the most unusual results of the March survey was that Western Massachusetts companies were more confident (63.6) than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth (62.2). Confidence outside of the white-hot Boston economy has been increasing steadily for months, but experts say it is too soon to say whether the geographic shift represents a long-term trend or a statistical anomaly.

Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company, and a BEA member, noted that the March confidence survey was taken just as Republican efforts to repeal federal health reform fell apart.

“Employers have anticipated that a Republican Congress and a Republican president would deliver traditional pro-growth measures such as tax reform and infrastructure improvements. The failure of those parties to pass health-reform legislation seems to have created uncertainty about other legislative priorities that matter to employers,” Bolger said.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, echoed the sense of uncertainty that hangs over Massachusetts as federal policymakers in Washington struggle to establish a direction.

“Many growth industries in Massachusetts such as health care, higher education, research and defense, depend upon federal funding and are vulnerable to potential budget reductions,” Lord said.

“Discussion of transitioning Medicaid, the health-insurance program for low-income Americans, to block grants also has significant implications to the health care system that is already straining employers.”

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

Employer Confidence Hits 13-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 7, 2017 8:45:12 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit a 13-year high during February, fueled by optimism among manufacturers and an increasingly positive view of the national economy.

BCI.February.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 0.7 points to 62.1 last month, seven points higher than its level of a year earlier and the highest reading since August 2004. Driving the increase was the U.S. Index of national business conditions, which has risen 11.5 points during the past year, and the Manufacturing Index, which surged 9.1 points.

The results came amid increasingly mixed economic signals that included a 2.8 percent Massachusetts unemployment rate and a significant slowdown in economic growth both in Massachusetts and nationally during the fourth quarter.

“The increase in confidence was more modest than we have seen in previous months. Employers projected a generally positive view of the economy, but were also taking the measure of potential economic policy changes in Washington,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers remain more optimistic about the future than about the present - a good indicator of the potential for continued growth and investment both in Massachusetts and nationally.”

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.

Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up during February.
The notable exception was the Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, which declined 0.2 points to 63.2. The state index nevertheless remained 6.8 points higher than in February 2016.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Index of national business conditions gained ground for the fifth consecutive month. Employers appear encouraged by the possibility that Congress and the new administration will pass growth measures that could include tax and regulatory reform.

February marked the 82nd consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.5 points to 59.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.1 points to 64.4. The future outlook was 8.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since May of 2004.

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.9 points to 62.8 while the Employment Index gained two points to 60.4. The Sales Index lost 0.4 points to 62.6.

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.

Michael Tyler, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management, and a BEA member, noted that the traditional confidence gaps between manufacturing companies and non-manufacturers, and between companies located in the eastern and western portions of Massachusetts, have closed in recent months.

“Confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers has risen 9.1 points during the past year and now stands at 61.2 compared to 63.0 for non-manufacturers. And confidence among companies in western and central Massachusetts hit 61.8 in February compared to 62.6 for companies in the eastern part of the state,” Tyler said.

"Those results suggest that the benefits of economic growth are finally spreading from Greater Boston to the entire state. What's more, as the dollar's rise has stabilized, manufacturers are finally sharing the positive view that service sector employers have felt for several years."

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the 2.8 percent unemployment rate in Massachusetts and the commonwealth’s designation last week as the best state in the nation by US News and World Report underscore the fact the Bay State economy remains strong.

At the same time, Lord said, employers face an uncertain mix of policy initiatives in Washington.

“Employers are certainly enthusiastic about lower corporate taxes, streamlined regulation and a meaningful infrastructure program. They are not as enthusiastic about withdrawing from trade agreements and once again having to process major changes in health reform,” he said.

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

Employer Confidence Rises for Fifth Consecutive Month

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Feb 7, 2017 8:42:41 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers rose for the fifth consecutive month during January despite a marked slowdown in economic growth during the fourth quarter of 2016.

BCI.January.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose one point to 61.4 last month, a full 5.6 points higher than a year earlier and the highest reading since December 2004. The confidence increase came during a month when the Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 2.8 percent and Bay State employers created more than 72,000 new jobs for the year.

At the same time, national economic growth slowed to an annual rate of 1.9 percent during the final three months of 2016, while the Massachusetts economy downshifted to a 0.5 percent growth rate from 3.1 percent during the third quarter.

“The good news is that unemployment in Massachusetts remains well below the national rate of 4.7 percent, but that low jobless rate may also be creating labor-force capacity constraints that are slowing output,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employer confidence seems to be tracking the overall optimism of financial markets that continue to hit record highs. It will be instructive to see how that enthusiasm holds up as Congress and the new administration get down to the business of governing.”

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 Uniformly Higher

All of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up to start 2017.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose to 61.8, leaving it 5.2 points ahead of the same time last year.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions inched up 0.1 points to 57.6 - 7.5 points higher than in January 2016. January marked the 81st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.3 points to 59.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.6 points to 63.3. The future outlook was 6.1 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015.

Operational Views Strengthen

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose one point to 61.9 while the Employment Index gained 1.2 points to 58.4 and the Sales Index 0.7 points to 62.1.

The AIM survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 18 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“One of the elements driving the overall increase in employer confidence is a rapidly brightening outlook among manufacturers,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and a BEA member.

“The AIM Manufacturing Index has risen 8.5 points during the past five months, driven by a positive outlook on sales and hiring. Manufacturing optimism also bodes well for capital investment and research and development going forward.”

Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were more optimistic at 63.0 than those in the western part of the state at 59.0.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said the emerging labor-force constraints underscore the importance of maintaining a world-class training and education system in Massachusetts. He noted that in the area of manufacturing, AIM has filed legislation to provide a 50 percent tax credit for eligible expenses for employees who receive certification through the Massachusetts Manufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Innovation Collaborative’ s (MACWIC) Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification Program.

“As employers find it increasingly difficult to locate appropriately skilled employees, we are reminded that our economic future depends upon the ability of Massachusetts to educate all children and all incumbent workers with the knowledge our companies need to prosper in a complex global economy,” Lord said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Business Confidence Hits 12-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 3, 2017 7:30:00 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers hit its highest level in 12 years during December amid the prospect of growth initiatives from the new administration in Washington and a continued strong state economy.

BCI.December.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.3 points to 60.4 last month, a full 5.1 points higher than its level in December 2015 and the highest reading since December 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive monthly increase in sentiment among employers in a commonwealth where the unemployment rate recently fell to 2.9 percent.

The November and December BCI readings mirror the post-election rally in U.S. financial markets, which have risen five percent as President-Elect Donald Trump prepares to work with a Republican Congress on business-friendly issues as tax reductions, regulatory reform and infrastructure spending. The AIM survey showed a 5.5-point jump in confidence in the national economy last month, leaving that indicator at its highest level since 2007.

“Massachusetts employers are taking the president-elect at his word that he will prioritize economic growth at the national level, especially if he is able to work with Congressional Democrats on a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“But employer enthusiasm is also based upon a solid economic expansion during 2016 that most analysts believe will continue in a methodical manner though the first half of 2017.”

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 Mostly Higher

Almost all of the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer were up in December.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 2 points to 61.8, leaving it 5.5 points ahead of the same time last year.

The increase in the U.S. Index of national business conditions put that figure 7.5 points higher than its level of a year ago, but still short of the Massachusetts index. It marked the 80th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.2 points to 59.1 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.5 points to 61.7. The future outlook was 5.5 points better than a year ago and higher than at any point since March 2015.

Operational Views Strengthen

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

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 1.4 points to 60.9 while the Sales Index increased 3.2 points to 61.4. The Employment Index was the only indicator to lose ground, falling 0.2 points to 57.2.

The AIM survey found that nearly 38 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.

“One of the most positive results of the December survey is that business confidence is strengthening uniformly across almost every sector of the economy,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Winer Economic Consulting and a BEA member.

“Employers both large and small, manufacturers and non-manufacturers, from the Pioneer Valley to Great Boston are more optimistic about their prospects than at any time since prior to the Great Recession.”

The BCI Manufacturing Index jumped 0.6 points during the month and 2.6 points for the year. The overall Business Confidence Index among non-manufacturers was 63.3 compared to 56.7 for manufacturing companies.

Companies in the eastern part of the Massachusetts were slightly more optimistic at 61.4 than those in the western part of the state at 57.6.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also a BEA member, said employers appear to be encouraged by the prospect that President-Elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress will be able to pass their tax and regulatory agenda.

At the same time, Lord said, there remains uncertainty about a possible repeal of federal health Care reform and the future of international trade agreements that are critical to Massachusetts companies.

“The only certainty appears to be uncertainty for the next six months,” Lord said.

“The key will be to ensure that any tax reductions and regulatory reforms made on the national level are not obviated by state measures intended to make Massachusetts a progressive ‘model’ for the rest of the country.”

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

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

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