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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

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

Strong Economy Boosts Business Confidence

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 11, 2018 5:10:00 AM

Massachusetts employers were equally confident about the national and state economies during August, breaking an eight-and-a-half-year run in which they were more bullish about the commonwealth than the nation as a whole.

BCI.August.2018The brightening view of the US economy boosted overall business confidence as employers headed for the end of the third quarter.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) gained 2 points to 63.2 last month after tumbling more than five points during June and July. The gain left the BCI two points higher than a year ago, comfortably within optimistic territory.

Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the last time employers were more optimistic about the national economy than the state was during the nadir of the Great Recession in May 2009 when the AIM BCI Massachusetts Index was 33.1 and the US Index was 34.4.

“The confluence of opinion reflects gathering optimism about the US economy rather than any weakness in the Massachusetts business climate. The Massachusetts Index rose 1.5 points during the year, but the US Index soared 4.5 points during that same period,” Torto said.

The optimism about national prospects came despite persistent concerns about rising production costs generated by tariffs and other factors.

“Steel tariffs are causing major cost escalation on goods and equipment ordered for installations. Freight costs are also rising rapidly. Many manufacturers of our equipment orders are refusing to quote freight until day of shipment and will not even give estimate of freight costs,” wrote one BCI participant.

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 largely higher during August.

The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations rose 2.4 points to 62.1, up 1.2 points from August 2017. The Employment Index gained 2.4 points to end the month at 57.0 while the Sales Index lost 0.8 points to 61.0.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 2.5 points to 66.1, leaving it 4.8 points higher than the year earlier. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 1.5 points during August, but remained down 1.0 point for the year.

Non-manufacturing companies (63.6) were slightly more optimistic than manufacturers (62.8). Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (65.2) were more bullish than those in the west (60.8).

“All of these numbers are well within optimistic range and reflect the views of employers operating in a state economy that grew at a 7.3 percent annual rate during the second quarter. The acceleration in economic growth underscored strong gains in employment, earnings, and consumer and business spending,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Winer Economic Consulting, LLC, and a BEA member.

“Underlying economic strength is, for the moment, overshadowing a somewhat unpredictable public policy environment.”

Historically strong economy

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, agreed that employers are driving a Massachusetts economy that remains historically strong.

“The state unemployment rate remains at 3.5 percent, wage and salary income surged 19.2 percent during the second quarter and economic output has accelerated,” Lord said. 

He cautioned, however, that the escalating series of tariffs and retaliatory tariffs among the US and its trading partners are starting to take a toll on Massachusetts employers.

“The thousands of member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) are increasingly concerned about the negative effect of current and proposed tariffs on Massachusetts companies. Particularly alarming are tariffs on raw materials, components and finished goods coming from China,” Lord said.

“While we concur with the need to address China’s unfair trade practices, we do not believe that tariffs are the best strategy. Tariffs are already hurting our companies here in Massachusetts and additional damage is anticipated, by business owners and leaders.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Employer Confidence Weakens in June

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jul 3, 2018 9:21:05 AM

Confidence among Massachusetts employers weakened considerably during June as tariffs, rising raw-material costs and approval of paid family and medical leave in the Bay State raised concerns about business growth.

BCI.June.2018The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) dropped 5.3 points to 61.3 last month, its lowest level since August 2017. Confidence remains well within the optimistic range, but the June decline left the BCI slightly below its level of a year ago.

Though analysts say the volatility in business confidence during May and June may reflect some statistical anomalies, the comments provided by employers on the monthly AIM survey suggest that companies are becoming increasingly concerned about a perfect storm of issues on the federal and state levels.

“EMAC (employer MassHealth assessment) and paid sick time are going to put me out of business if something doesn’t change quickly,” wrote one employer.

Another wrote: “A trade war with China is going to cost jobs, not add them.”

“It is certainly significant that the AIM Business Confidence Index is lower than it was in June 2017. It is also significant that many of the individual indicators that make up the overall index - ranging from employer hiring plans to their views of the Massachusetts economy – are also lower than they were a year ago,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design. “It will be interesting to see how confidence changes during the summer as Massachusetts continues to operate at virtually full capacity.”

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 all lost ground during June.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth fell 7.2 points to 62.8, leaving it 1.4 points lower than in June 2017.

The U.S. Index ended the month at 60.0, down 9.3 points for the month but 2.6 points better than a year ago.
June marked the 100th 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 2.6 points to 63.5. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, fell 7.5 points to 59.1. The Current Index gained 1.6 points during the year while the Future Index lost 2.6 points.

Employer views of their own companies also weakened.

The Company Index declined 3.3 points to 61.2, down 1.2 points for 12 months. The Employment Index ended the month at 55.0, a 3.3-point decrease for the month and 3.1 points lower than a year ago. The Sales Index lost 2.9 points for the month and 0.2 points for the year.

Manufacturing companies (62.5) were slightly more optimistic than non-manufacturers (60.2). Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (63.3) were more bullish than those in the west (58.7).

“It’s interesting to note that medium and small companies remain significantly more optimistic than larger companies, reversing the typical pattern,” said Edward H. Pendergast, Managing Director, Dunn Rush & Co. “Entrepreneurial companies continue to drive growth here in Massachusetts.”

The BCI decrease came a month after the Mass Insight index of consumer confidence in Massachusetts suffered its biggest quarterly decline in years, from 134 in February to 121 in May. The index remined in optimistic territory, but fell below a comparable index for national consumer confidence for the first time since 2014.

Mixed Signals

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers are feeling threats from all directions.

“Member employers are deeply concerned about a potential trade war with China and with key US trading partners such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union,” Lord said.

“At the same time, the Legislature last week passed a ‘grand bargain’ that will create a family- and medical-leave requirement and increase the state minimum wage from $11 per hour to $15 per hour. Those requirements, on top of the MassHealth assessment and other elements, continue to challenge employers.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

Economic Development Chief Staying Busy

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 23, 2018 12:22:16 PM

Jay Ash acknowledges that it’s a great time to be Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in Massachusetts.

Ash.jpg“I am getting a call a week from a company talking to me, not about bringing 100 or 200 or 500 jobs, but 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 jobs,” Ash told 300 business leaders during a presentation to the AIM Executive Forum this morning.

Ash has recently played a key role in the recruitment or expansion in Massachusetts of major employers ranging from Amazon, General Electric and MassMutual to IBM Watson Health, Kronos and Siemens. These expansions promise thousands of high-quality new jobs for Massachusetts residents while cementing the state’s reputation as a global center of innovation and growth.

“What an unbelievable time to be involved in economic development, and what an unbelievable time to be involved in a great state like Massachusetts,” he said.

Ash, an avuncular Democrat who has overseen economic development for the Baker Administration during its first three years, said Massachusetts benefits from a uniquely bipartisan approach to issues affecting the economy. He noted that the economic development bill announced by the Republican governor just two weeks ago has already been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday by the Democratically controlled Legislature.

The bill would commit $100 million to regionally significant economic development projects throughout the commonwealth, establish an apprenticeship tax credit, double grants to community colleges and vocations high schools to purchase equipment and establish a permanent sales-tax holiday.

Ash said the administration is pursuing its economic agenda in tandem with efforts to expand the availability of housing and to address persistent educational achievement and funding gaps. He thanked Associated Industries of Massachusetts for efforts to streamline the process used by communities to permit both low-income and market-rate housing.

 “There’s reason to be optimistic. Let’s roll up our sleeves because the best jobs done are the one we do ourselves.

Topics: Economic Development, Economy, AIM Executive Forum

Employer Confidence Dips; Overall View Remains Optimistic

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 5, 2017 7:30:00 AM

Massachusetts employer confidence edged lower for the second consecutive month during August, but remained comfortably in optimistic territory.

BCI.August.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) shed 0.3 points to 61.2 last month, leaving it 7.1 points higher than a year ago. The Index has been essentially flat since April and now stands 0.2 points lower than at the beginning of 2017.

Last month’s slip reflected offsetting trends in employer attitudes about conditions inside and outside their walls. Employers grew less bullish about their own companies during the month, but showed growing optimism about the national economy and about prospects for manufacturers.

“Employer confidence continues to move in a narrow range defined by broad optimism about both the state and national economies,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The steady level of confidence readings above the 60 mark reflect a state economy that grew at a 4 percent annual rate during the second quarter while maintaining a steady level of employment growth.”

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 constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during August.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, remained unchanged at 63.2, still 6.3 points higher than in August 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.3 points to 60.2 amid strong signs of job expansion nationally. The US Index has risen 10.6 points during the past year, more than any other element of the overall Business Confidence Index.

Still, August marked the 89th 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, edged up 0.1 points points to 61.3 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, dropped 0.6 points to 61.2. The Future Index ended the month 6.3 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 1.3 points to 60.9. The employment Index surged 2.3 points to 58.0 after losing ground during July.

Executives at manufacturing companies and those at non-manufacturing enterprises maintained almost identical confidence readings – 61.1 for manufacturers, 61.3 for non-manufacturers. The AIM Manufacturing Index has surged 9.9 points during the past year.

“Manufacturers in Massachusetts remain optimistic even though national economic signals for that sector remain mixed. The Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index was strong August, but the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI showed manufacturing expanding at its slowest pace since June 2016,” said Edward H. Pendergast, Managing Director of Dunn Rush & Co. in Boston and a BEA member.

Confidence was also remarkably consistent across all geographic regions of the commonwealth. Eastern Massachusetts companies posted a 61.3 reading during August versus 61.1 for companies in western Massachusetts.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, noted that a significant number of employers who responded to the August survey expressed frustration with the new $200 million health-insurance surcharge and the proliferation of complex and expensive employment laws.

“Amid a generally strong economy, employers feel under siege from a government and an electorate that seem willing to impose crushing financial burdens on job creators in the name of social progress,” Lord said.

“Employers are telling us that additional measures that may be headed to the statewide ballot – paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage and a punitive surtax on incomes of more than $1 million – may force them to relocate.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Economy

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 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

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

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