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Business Confidence Steady as Economy Remains Solid

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 10, 2019 7:38:12 AM

The Thanksgiving holiday left Massachusetts employers in a good but cautious mood as business confidence remained steady during November.

BCI.November.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.3 points to 60.6 last month, leaving it one point lower than its level of a year ago but three points higher than in January.

The results came during a month when the Massachusetts unemployment rate remained at an historic low of 2.9 percent and employers nationally created a stronger-than-expected 266,000 new jobs. Employers also spent the month trying to make sense of the on-again, off-again trade war with China.

The US economy grew at a deliberate 1.9 percent pace during the third quarter, while the Massachusetts economy contracted by 0.2 percent as employers began to bump up against labor-force constraints.

“The AIM Business Confidence Index has drifted up and down amid a swirl of economic and political uncertainties during 2019, but employers have remained consistently optimistic about their overall prospects,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 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

The constituent indicators that make up the Business Confidence Index all moved in a narrow range during November.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth lost 0.8 points to 67.0 while the US Index declined 0.4 points to 59.2. The Massachusetts Index is virtually even with its level of a year ago; the US index has dropped 4.5 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 0.9 points to 59.5 after surging during October. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.6 points to 61.7, almost a point lower than a year ago.

The Employment Index remained even for the month, leaving it 1.3 points higher for the year, underscoring the capacity issues faced by employers struggling to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy.

Non-manufacturers (62.2) were slightly more confident than manufacturing companies (59.3), which have been most directly affected by uncertainty surrounding trade policy. Medium-sized companies (61.2) were more optimistic than large companies (60.8) or small companies (59.2). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (61.2) remained more optimistic than those in the west (59.8).

Barry Bluestone, retired Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University and a BEA member, said Massachusetts policymakers appear ready to address issues such as housing and transportation that will affect the ability of the commonwealth to attract and retain skilled workers.

“The economic future of Massachusetts rests with highly educated and highly skilled people who will maintain the commonwealth’s status as a global center of economic growth and innovation. But those people will not put down roots here if they can’t afford housing or navigate their way to work,” Bluestone said.

The Moderate Middle

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said political leaders in Massachusetts continue to show a willingness to collaborate on critical economic problems. He noted that the Baker Administration and the Legislature worked together in November to pass a landmark $1.5 billion public-school funding reform that contained accountability measures sought by business.

“The partisan polarization that characterizes much of our political debate misses the fact that there is a moderate middle in America seeking action on important issues. A study from New Center shows that 43 percent of Americans classify themselves in the political center, compared with 34 percent for the right and 23 percent for the left,” Regan said.

“The results make us optimistic that bipartisan cooperation will continue in Massachusetts on issues such as transportation, health costs and taxation.”
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Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

Resilient Economy Boosts Business Confidence

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 12, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Business confidence strengthened in Massachusetts last month amid signs that the state and national economies are more resilient than many experts predicted.

BCI.October.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2 points to 60.9 last month, leaving it virtually even with its level of a year ago.

The October upswing was led by growing employer optimism in the Massachusetts and national economies, as well as brightening prospects for manufacturers.

The survey results came during a month when US employers added a stronger-than-expected 128,000 jobs. And while the Massachusetts economy contracted slightly during the third quarter, experts say the reversal reflects workforce capacity limits rather than an economic downturn.

“U.S. hiring was unexpectedly resilient in October and prior months saw upward revisions. It appears that consumers will extend the record-long expansion despite trade tensions and weak business investment,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 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  

The constituent indicators that make up the Business Confidence Index all moved higher during October.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth surged 4.5 points to 67.8 while the US Index rose 3.1 points to 59.6. The increase left the Massachusetts reading 3 points higher than a year ago; the US index has dropped by 2 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 2.2 points to 58.6, virtually even with its reading from October 2018. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 2.0 points to 63.3, also matching its reading of a year ago.

The Employment Index rose slightly by 0.3 points for the month but remained down 2.5 points for the year, underscoring the capacity issues faced by employers struggling to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy.

Non-manufacturers (63.4) were more confident than manufacturers (59.0), despite a strong October gain in optimism among industrial companies. Small companies (63.6) were more optimistic than medium-sized companies (60.6) or large companies (59.6). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (61.2) remained more optimistic than those in the west (60.4).

Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company and a BEA member, said employers appear to have concluded that the slowing economy remains fundamentally strong enough to make a recession unlikely in the near future.

“Companies are also hoping that a preliminary trade agreement between China and the United States will clear up some of the uncertainty that has been causes by tariffs and an escalating trade battle,” Bolger said.

Business Battens the Hatches

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said the persistent shortage of skilled workers constraining the Massachusetts economy underscores the need for the Legislature to pass an education funding bill that establishes accountability for school districts to prepare students for both college and the workforce. 

“The job of sustaining Massachusetts’ global leadership in innovation belongs to everyone, and that requires a thoughtful, long-range plan to maintain our competitive advantage, including our education system. The foundation of such a plan is a set of educational standards that ensure our students’ continued achievement via distinct criteria,” Regan said.

“Whether Massachusetts high school graduates choose a college track or enter the workforce directly upon graduation, we must remain vigilant and insist on relevant, high standards to provide all our students with equal access to the economic advantages that follow educational achievement.”

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

Business Confidence Holds Steady; Manufacturing Outlook Dims

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 8, 2019 8:24:21 AM

Business confidence remained essentially flat in Massachusetts during September despite a darkening outlook among manufacturers.

BCI.September.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 0.2 points to 58.9 last month after retreating in August. The Index has lost 3.7 points since September 2018 but remains within optimistic territory.

The September reading was weighed down by weakening sentiment among Bay State manufacturers. The Index’s manufacturing component dropped 2.4 points in September and 7.9 points for the year.

The results mirrored the national Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, which fell to its lowest level since 2009 last month. A separate report by IHS Markit showed that the manufacturing sector suffered its worst quarter since 2009, though activity increased during September.

“Manufacturers are bearing the brunt of both actual and threatened tariffs against goods imported from China. Many Massachusetts companies have also become caught in retaliatory tariffs and are seeing significant weakening of their overseas business,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA).

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 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

The constituent indicators that make up the AIM BCI were mixed during September.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth fell 0.6 points to 63.3 while the US Index rose to 56.5. The Massachusetts reading has decreased 1.2 points and the US reading 7.1 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, lost 0.5 points to 56.4, leaving it 4.4 points lower than a year ago. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.8 points to 61.3 – 3.0 points lower than its reading of September 2018.

The Employment Index rose a point for the month but remained down 3.1 points for the year. Employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy.

Non-manufacturers (61.9) were more confident than manufacturers (55.4). Large companies (60.2) were more optimistic than medium-sized companies (59.9) or small companies (55.4), reversing a trend established during the summer. Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (62.6) continued to be more optimistic than those in the west (53.8).

Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management, and a BEA member, said the gaps in confidence between manufacturing companies and other businesses, and between companies in different regions of the commonwealth, appear to be growing.

“Manufacturing has been hit by the steady increase in tariffs imposed by the United States, China and other nations since 2018. The World Trade Organization estimates that the flow of goods across borders will increase by just 1.2 percent this year and manufacturing companies are feeling that downdraft,” Tyler said.

Business Battens the Hatches

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said a separate survey shows that two-thirds of AIM-member employers expect an economic contraction between now and the end of 2020. Companies are preparing for a possible slowdown by hiring fewer people, paying down debt and limiting capital expenditures.

“A possible take-away from the survey for state policymakers as they begin considering billions of dollars in new spending is this could be a difficult time ahead for the state economy,” Regan said.

“Businesses are assuming a defensive posture and significant tax increases - beyond the $1 billion for the new paid family and medical leave system - even for worthwhile causes, could harm the overall economy, most especially the manufacturing sector.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Business Confidence Tumbles during August

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 10, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Business confidence continued to seesaw during August as employers warily eyed a possible economic slowdown and the escalating trade war between the United States and China.

BCI.August.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) fell 3.3 points to 58.7 last month after surging 4.4 points during July. The Index has lost 4.5 points since August 2018 but remains within optimistic territory.

The August decline was driven by growing concern about the US economy and the outlook among manufacturers- both elements driven by trade concerns.

Analysts cautioned against reading too much into the month-to-month gyrations of the Business Confidence Index but noted that every measure of confidence now sits below its level of a year ago.

“The imposition of 15 percent tariffs on $112 billion worth of Chinese goods on September 1 underscores the uncertainty facing employers, particularly manufacturers, who do business in overseas markets,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, employers are beginning to see evidence from both customers and suppliers of a slowdown in the US economy. That caution is reflected in the 7.4-point confidence drop in the national outlook.”

The nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of economic health — grew at a moderate 2.0 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, down from a 3.1 percent growth rate in the first quarter.

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 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

The constituent indicators that make up the AIM BCI all decreased during August.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth fell 4.3 points to 63.9 while the US Index dropped to 55.2. The Massachusetts reading has decreased 0.8 points and the US reading 9.5 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, declined 3.9 points to 56.9, leaving it 3.3 points lower than a year ago. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, lost 2.7 points to 60.5, 5.6 points lower than its reading of August 2018.

The Employment Index slipped 1.5 points for the month and 3.8 points for the year even as the state unemployment rate fell to 2.9 percent. Employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy.

Non-manufacturers (60.3) were more confident than manufacturers (57.1). Small companies (61.5) remained more confident than large companies (58.7) or medium-sized companies (56.3). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (60.7) continue to be more optimistic than those in the west (56.0).

Katherine A. Kiel, Professor of Economics at the College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member, said business confidence reflects the same volatility that has shaken global financial markets in recent months.

“Economic growth in Massachusetts slowed from 2.7 percent during the first quarter to 1.4 percent in the second.

Employers remain optimistic overall but see growing downside risks ranging from demographic constraints on the labor force to international uncertainty caused by factors such as tariffs and Brexit,” Kiel said.

State Policy Gains

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said employers will be watching closely this fall as the Massachusetts Legislature debates an education funding bill that could begin to address the persistent shortage of skilled workers in the economy.

“The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different,” Regan said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts employers, Economy

Employer Confidence Rises Despite Uncertainty

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Aug 6, 2019 8:18:48 AM

Massachusetts employers shrugged off mounting evidence of an economic slowdown during July and expressed growing confidence in both the state and national economies.

BCI.July.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 4.4 points to 62.0 last month, reaching its highest level since September. The Index has gained 0.8 points during the past 12 months and remains comfortably within optimistic territory.

The confidence surge was driven by optimism in the Massachusetts economy and a strengthening outlook among manufacturers.

“We have to be cautious in reading large month-to-month changes in the Business Confidence Index, but the fact that employers are more optimistic than they were a year ago and six months ago is a good sign,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“With a host of seemingly conflicting indicators at play – unemployment in Massachusetts remains at a low 2.9 percent while economic growth slowed from an annualized rate of 2.7 percent to 1.4 percent during the second quarter – it will be interesting to see how employer optimism holds up for the rest of 2019.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 100 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 July confidence survey was taken after the government reported that US employers added 164,000 jobs during June and before President Donald Trump announced another round of tariffs on Chinese products.

Constituent Indicators

The constituent indicators that make up the AIM BCI all increased during July.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth surged 7 points to 68.2 while the US Index rose 4.6 points to 62.6. The Massachusetts reading has risen 3.1 points and the US reading 0.7 points during the past 12 months.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 4.6 points to 60.8, leaving it 2.1 points higher than a year ago. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 4.2 points to 63.2, virtually even with its reading of July 2018.

The Employment Index gained 1.9 points for the month and 0.2 points for the year. Employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a full-employment state economy facing a demographic challenge as baby boomers leave the work force.

Non-manufacturers (63.6) were more confident than manufacturers (60.5), who remain concerned about the consequences of tariffs and trade tensions. Small companies (65.2) were more confident than large companies (58.9) or medium-sized companies (62.3). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (63.3) continued to be more optimistic than those in the west (59.8).

Michael D. Goodman, Executive Director of the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth, and a BEA member, said business confidence remains volatile amid a swirl of economic and political issues ranging from trade to the availability of qualified workers.

“Employer optimism may reflect the fact that the Massachusetts economy should be somewhat insulated during these final stages of the economic expansion by a unique industry mix dominated by technology and innovation companies,” Goodman said.

Wrong Time to Raise Costs

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said Massachusetts employers already burdened with business and compliance costs could face more of the same soon as the state Legislature debates ways to raise revenue for big-ticket issues such as transportation and education.

“Beacon Hill is awash with calls for more revenue. But the slowing of the economy during the second quarter means this is exactly the wrong time to place additional cost burdens on business,” Regan said.

“If the economy goes into a downturn while costs are increasing that will create big challenges for employers.”

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

Employer Confidence Stabilizes in June

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jul 9, 2019 8:46:46 AM

Employer confidence stabilized in Massachusetts during June despite a continued swirl of conflicting economic and political signals around the globe.

BCI.June.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 0.5 points to 57.6 last month, rebounding from a May drop that left it at its lowest level since October 2016.

The Index has declined 3.7 points since June 2018 but remains within optimistic territory. And though confidence levels are virtually unchanged since January, the AIM Index reflects constantly changing headlines about international trade, economic growth and the direction of interest rates.

“We’re seeing confidence go up one month and down the next in the same way that financial markets have been whipsawed by almost daily changes in the economic outlook,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers remain concerned about the prospect of an economic slowdown but were encouraged at the end of June by larger-than-expected job growth numbers, signs of a thaw in the US/China trade battle and signals that the Federal Reserve might ease interest rates.”

Tariffs continue to influence employer confidence.

“Have seen cost increases for construction materials due to the effect of tariffs. This is creating some uncertainty in the pricing of new construction projects,” one member wrote.

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

The constituent indicators that make up the AIM BCI were mixed during June.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth rose 0.3 points to 61.2 while the US Index rose a full 3 points to 58.0. The Massachusetts reading has declined 1.6 points during the past 12 months and the US reading has dropped 2.0 points during the same period.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose slightly, 0.2 points to 56.2. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 0.8 points to 59.0, 4.5 points lower than a year ago.

The Employment Index declined 0.4 points for the month and 2.2 percent for 12 months. Analysts say employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a state economy with a 2.9 percent jobless rate.

Non-manufacturers (60.1) were more confident than manufacturers (54.4), who have seen their confidence levels drop 8.1 percent since June 2018. Large companies (59.0) were more confident than small companies (58.4) or medium-sized companies (55.6). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (58.5) continued to be more optimistic than those in the west (56.3).

Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Winer Economic Consulting, LLC, and a BEA member, said continuing weakness in the Company Index, Manufacturing Index and Employment Index underscores some of the long-term challenges facing Massachusetts employers beyond the day-to-day headlines.

“Hiring and retaining skilled employees is becoming a barrier to expansion for some companies. The short-term issues affecting confidence will eventually be overshadowed by the long-term demographics of having large numbers of baby boomers leave the work force,” Winer said.

State Policy Gains

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said that Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature have made several decisions recently that boosted employer confidence. Those decisions included postponing the start of contributions for paid family leave and allowing the MassHealth assessment to lapse as scheduled in December.

“Employer have been encouraged by the willingness of state policymakers to meet businesses halfway on some of these complex issues,” Regan said.

“Our hope is that lawmakers will continue this mindful approach to the economy.”

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

Employer Confidence Falls in May

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jun 4, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Employer confidence weakened in Massachusetts during May amid renewed trade tensions and concerns among companies about increased operating costs from paid family leave and other government mandates.

BCI.May.2019The outlook among business leaders has moved in a narrow, overall optimistic, range for much of 2019.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 3.2 points last month to 57.1, its lowest level since October 2016. The Index has declined 9.5 points since May 2018.

All of the constituent indicators that make up the BCI weakened during May with the largest drop coming in employer views of conditions six months from now.

The erosion of confidence during the past 12 months has been driven largely by caution about the national economy and concern among manufacturing companies.

“The Business Confidence Index continues to reflect the Goldilocks economy in which we find ourselves – US GDP growth is expected to remain at a modest level of 2 to 3 percent and there is not much inflation or deflation. There are both encouraging signs and red flags,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Several employers participating in the survey said regulatory costs have become a significant concern.

“The cost to operate has increased dramatically - higher wages, benefit costs, supply costs and cost of compliance with all the new regulations coming out of State House,” one employer wrote.

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

The constituent indicators showed a broad-based retrenchment during May.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth fell 2.3 points to 60.9, while the US Index shed 3.3 points to 55.0. The Massachusetts reading has declined 9.1 points during the past 12 months and the US reading has dropped 14.3 points during the same period.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, tumbled 4.5 points to 56.0. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, lost 1.8 points to 58.2, 8.4 points lower than a year ago.

The Employment Index declined 1.2 points for the month and 5.1 percent for 12 months. Analysts say employers continue to struggle to find qualified workers in a state economy with a 2.9 percent jobless rate.

Non-manufacturers (60.0) were more confident than manufacturers (54.7). Small companies (58.4) were more bullish than large (55.0) or medium-sized companies (57.6), a reversal of the usual pattern. Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.3) continued to be far more optimistic than those in the west (54.0).

Elmore Alexander, Retired Dean of the Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University and a BEA member, said Massachusetts employers are reflecting general concerns about tepid national economic growth, renewed geopolitical tensions and slowing corporate spending.

“Few see an imminent recession, but most experts believe US economic growth will slow from 3 percent last year to 2.1 percent this year to 1.9 percent in 2020,” Alexander said.

Rising Costs

AIM President and CEO John R. Regan, also BEA member, said the national economic uncertainty comes at a time when Massachusetts employers are struggling with a series of expensive new employment law mandates such as the state’s $1 billion paid family and medical leave program.

“AIM has joined Raise Up Massachusetts and other groups in asking the Baker Administration to delay the scheduled July 1 start of paid leave by three months to provide employers time to consider how much of the cost they will share with workers and whether they wish to opt out of the state system. The delay is necessary to ensure a smooth rollout of this new entitlement,” Regan said.

Regan joined the BEA after being named President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

Topics: International Trade, AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Employer Confidence Rises in April

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 8, 2019 8:55:23 AM

Massachusetts employers grew more confident during April as the state and national economies regained their footing.

BCI.April.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose 2.4 points to 60.3 last month. Confidence remains well within optimistic territory, though still 3.9 points below its strong reading of April 2018.

The April 2019 increase reflected growing employer optimism about economic prospects for the next six months and about the future of their own companies.

All of the constituent indicators that make up the BCI rose during April with one notable exception. The Employment Index fell 1.5 points to 54.4, suggesting that employer sentiment continues to be tempered by a persistent shortage of qualified workers.

“The Business Confidence Index continues to show a conflict between short-term economic optimism and long-term concern about the prospect of finding enough appropriately skilled workers to run Massachusetts businesses,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The immediate news for employers is positive as economic growth in Massachusetts surged to an annual rate of 4.6 percent during the first quarter of 2019 and US growth came in at 3.2 percent.”

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

The constituent indicators showed a broad-based strengthening of confidence during April.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth rose 1.5 points to 63.2, while the US Index gained 2.8 points to 58.3. The Massachusetts reading has declined 0.9 points during the past 12 months and the US reading has dropped 5.6 points during the same period.

The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 3.1 points to 60.5. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 1.7 points to 60.0, still 5.1 points lower than a year ago.

The decline in the Employment Index left that measure 5.4 points lower than in April 2018. One good sign for job seekers is that the Sales Index, a key predictor of future business activity, rose 3.9 points during the month.

Non-manufacturers (64.1) were more confident than manufacturers (57.3). Large companies (60.7), medium-sized companies (60.5) and small companies (59.7) all had similar confidence outlooks. Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (64.5) continued to be far more bullish than those in the west (55.5).

Edward H. Pendergast, Managing Director of Dunn Rush & Co. and a BEA member, said employer confidence reflects first-quarter economic growth that was stronger than most experts anticipated. That growth sent US stocks to record highs in April before this week’s selloff.

“The consensus on Wall Street is for slowing growth as the year progresses, but the economy is setting a solid and predictable pace that reassures employers that there is little immediate threat of recession,” Pendergast said.

Training and Education

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the sluggish Employment Index underscores the urgency for business and government to collaborate on ways to train and educate the workers who will drive the economy in the future.

“The persistent shortage of workers will become more severe as large numbers of baby boomers continue to leave the work force. It is imperative that we address the next generation of workers, so we can extend opportunity broadly to the people of Massachusetts.”

Lord’s commentary is his final one before retiring as President of AIM next week.

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

Employer Confidence Slips in March

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 2, 2019 8:30:59 AM

Business confidence weakened slightly in March amid signs of both a cyclical global slowdown and persistent demographic factors limiting the growth of the labor force in Massachusetts.

BCI.March.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.3 points to 57.9 during March. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 5.6 points during the past 12 months.

The decrease reflected employer concerns about economic prospects for the next six months. Those concerns outweighed growing optimism among manufacturing companies and rising confidence in the Massachusetts economy.

The March Business Confidence survey took place as the government announced that Massachusetts created only 20,000 jobs during 2018 instead of the 65,500 previously estimated. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average payroll job growth in Massachusetts fell from 1.3 percent in 2017 to 0.9 percent last year.

“Massachusetts employers continue to struggle with the challenges of a full-employment economy complicated by demographic issues such as the retirement of large numbers of baby boomers,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“U.S. economic growth appears to be slowing, as well as world economic growth, but recession fears are still low.”

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

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index moved in a narrow range during March.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth gained 0.9 points to 61.7. Confidence in the Massachusetts economy has declined 6.1 points since March 2018.

The U.S. Index measuring employer sentiment about the national economy slipped 0.5 points to 55.5, leaving it 9.7 points less than a year ago.

Employers were slightly more optimistic about current conditions than about the future. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 0.6 points to 58.3 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, fell 1.3 points to 57.4. The Future Index has fallen 7.0 points during the past 12 months.

The Employment Index, measuring employer optimism about hiring, rose 1.2 points to 55.9.

Non-manufacturers (60.6) were more confident than manufacturers (55.4). Small companies (60.8) were more optimistic than large companies (55.2) or medium-sized companies (57.5). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (60.0) continued to be more bullish than those in the west (55.0).

Northeastern University professor Alan Clayton-Matthews, a BEA member, said the downward revision of the Massachusetts job-growth numbers was consistent with demographic trends such as the large number of baby boomers retiring from the work force.

“The last New England Economic Project forecast projected a slowdown in payroll job growth from 1.7 percent in 2017 to 1.1 percent in 2018 and 0.6 percent in 2019 and a slowdown in labor-force growth from 1.6 percent in 2017 to 0.6 percent in 2018 and 0.4 percent in 2019. This forecast was largely based on demographic projections assuming a full-employment economy,” said Clayton-Matthews.

“The state economy seems to be running at full capacity, and the basic state indicators don’t suggest a lack of demand, though it’s hard to spot turning points until there is enough hindsight.”

Mixed Signals

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers remain concerned as Beacon Hill lawmakers undertake a broad discussion of how to fund expensive policy priorities such as transportation infrastructure, public education and clean energy. He noted that AIM will be part of a group assembled by the state Senate to look at the Massachusetts tax code.

“AIM undertakes these debates conscious of the oppressive cost burdens already facing Massachusetts employers. Massachusetts must develop a fair strategy to address its spending needs without harming employers who are already struggling to implement a $1 billion paid family and medical leave program along with the rising cost of both health insurance and energy,” Lord said.

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

Business Confidence Rebounds in February

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 5, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Business confidence rebounded modestly during February as optimism about the state and national economies outweighed a darkening outlook among Massachusetts manufacturers.

BCI.February.2019The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) gained 0.5 points to 58.2 after dropping in January to its lowest level since October 2016. Confidence remains within optimistic territory but has lost 6.8 points during the past 12 months.

The February increase was driven by a 3.4-point jump in employer views of the state economy and a 3.3-point rise for the national economy. The government announced last week that the US economy grew at a 2.9 percent rate in 2018, matching 2015 as the biggest increase since the end of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

“Employers remain generally optimistic about a state economy that continues to run at full-employment levels and a US economy that is projected to grow by 2.2 percent this year” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, the erosion of confidence among Massachusetts manufacturers during the past 12 months raises some concern about the long-term sustainability of the recovery.”

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

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during February.

The 3.4-point increase in the Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth left that indicator at 60.8. Confidence in the Massachusetts economy has declined 7.7 points since February 2018.

The U.S. Index measuring employer sentiment about the national economy rose to 56.0, its highest level since November. The reading was still 10.9 points less than a year ago.

Employer views about the future were more optimistic than the present for the first time in 11 months. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.5 points to 57.7 while he Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, increased 1.5 points to 58.7.

Non-manufacturers (61.7) were significantly more confident than manufacturers (53.3). Large companies (62.3) were more optimistic than either medium-sized companies (57.1) or small companies (55.2). Companies in Eastern Massachusetts (59.6) continued to be more bullish than those in the west (56.3).

“Employers last month welcomed several developments, including the end of the government shutdown and the Federal Reserve’s decision to pause increases in interest rates,” said Sara L. Johnson, Executive Director, Global Economics, IHS Markit and Vice Chairwoman of the BEA.

“The overall picture of business confidence reflects the economy itself – slowing a bit but still strong overall.”

Mixed Signals

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the comments provided by employers on the February AIM Business Confidence Index Survey show that many companies remain bullish about 2019, while others remain concerned about issues ranging from gridlock in Washington to the persistent shortage of skilled employees.

“There are plenty of mixed signals 10 years into the economic recovery,” Lord said.

“Massachusetts employers face rising wage costs, rising raw-material costs and the challenge of integrating new public-policy mandates such as an increased minimum wage and paid family and medical leave. It’s the right time in the business cycle for state and federal government to follow the lead of the Federal Reserve and pause the imposition of expensive new initiatives.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

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