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Confidence Slips, But Overall Outlook Remains Positive

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 2, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Business confidence in Massachusetts declined slightly during September as employers balanced optimism about economic fundamentals with concerns about tariffs and new state regulations.

BCI.September.2018The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.6 points to 62.6 last month, leaving it almost even with its level of year ago. The BCI has been moving for most of 2018 within a narrow range that is well within optimistic territory.

Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design, said the steady business confidence readings may reflect the lack of any significant economic or political changes that threaten the nine-year-old recovery.

“The underlying direction of the state and national economies remains positive. The Massachusetts economy grew at a staggering 7.3 percent annual rate during the second quarter and unemployment remains near historic lows at 3.6 percent,” Torto said.

“At the same time, employers remain wary of raw-material price increases brought about by new tariffs. The September survey was taken prior to the announcement Sunday of a new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, so it will be interesting to learn whether that deal affects employer attitudes moving forward.”

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 lower during September.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the commonwealth ended the month at 64.5, falling 0.2 points for the month and 0.9 points for the year.

The U.S. Index lost 1.1 points to 63.6, still 3.8 points higher than in September 2017.

The Company Index measuring employer assessments of their own operations declined half a point to 61.6, down 0.7 points from September 2017. The Employment Index gained 0.3 points during September while the Sales Index lost 0.5 points to 60.5.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 1.8 points last month to 64.3. The Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, gained 0.6 points. The Current Index rose 1.4 points during the year while the Future Index lost 1.1 points.

Manufacturing companies (63.3) were more optimistic than non-manufacturers (61.8), reversing a long-term trend in the confidence survey. Companies in the eastern part of Massachusetts (64.4) were more bullish than those in the west (60.2).

Michael D. Goodman, Executive Director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) at UMass Dartmouth and a BEA member, noted that the persistent shortage of skilled workers in key occupations and the tightening labor market at long last appear to be exerting upward pressure on wages, even if the benefits of rising incomes remain concentrated in the Greater Boston region and among the state’s highest earning households.

“Aggregate wage and salary income as measured by state withholding tax collections in Massachusetts grew at a 19.2 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, while nationally, U.S. workers saw their biggest pay increase in nearly a decade during the 12 months ending in June.” Goodman said.  “While the rising tide is not yet lifting boats in every corner of the Commonwealth, economic conditions in Massachusetts were undeniably very strong in the second quarter.”

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said the solid level of employer confidence during the past year bodes well for job growth in the months ahead.
“Confident employers hire new workers, invest in capital equipment, develop new markets and expand their plants and offices,” Lord said.

“It’s particularly encouraging to see year-over-year gains in both the Manufacturing Index and the Employment Index. Jobs and economic opportunity are, after all, the ultimate benefits of a strong economy.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Tariff, Massachusetts economy

Tariffs Damage Massachusetts Companies

Posted by Kristen Rupert on Sep 10, 2018 8:30:00 AM

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.

Itnl.PortParticularly alarming are tariffs on raw materials, components and finished goods coming from China. 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.

AIM hears weekly from companies across industries—retail, machining, consumer goods, manufacturing, plastics, semiconductor— who are suffering from recent tariffs and are concerned about proposed tariffs.

One Massachusetts CEO told us: “Tariffs are by far the most serious issue my company has faced in 40 years of business—much more important than health insurance costs, regulations, and finding workers...”

These companies need tariffs eliminated.

What are the tariffs?

  • The U.S. imposed tariffs this past spring on steel (25 percent tariff) and aluminum (10 percent tariff) imports from Canada, Mexico, the EU and other countries. In response the EU, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, and Russia immediately instituted retaliatory tariffs on US exports to those countries. India will implement retaliatory tariffs this month.  
  • The U.S., separately, imposed two rounds of tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products earlier this summer. The U.S. is now considering a third round of tariffs, which may take effect as soon as this week, on an additional $200 billion worth of goods from China. These tariffs range from 10-25 percent.   The China tariffs effectively tax U.S. consumers and manufacturers on many goods that they purchase from China.

The consequence of tariffs on Massachusetts companies are far-reaching:

Higher costs of doing business: Companies are paying more for components, raw materials and finished products. Firms often cannot pass these additional costs to their customers. The result is reduced profitability and reduced opportunity to re-invest in the business.

Supply-chain disruption: Companies spend decades developing and refining their supply chains. China is a valuable source for components and finished products. In many cases, these components and products are simply not available in the US, at any price. Quality and quantity requirements necessitate buying from overseas providers. Finding new suppliers is difficult or impossible.

Impact on jobs in Massachusetts: When companies must pay 15 percent to 200 percent more for materials or products, the financial impact is significant. Executives have told us their options are limited. Choosing among no new hires, decreased benefits/raises, or layoffs does not bode well for the Massachusetts economy or for companies themselves.

More competition from foreign manufacturers: One manufacturer told us that his company is already losing sales to foreign competitors who can offer a similar product at a lower price point because the US product carries a tariff and the one made in Europe or Asia does not.

General economic climate: With higher expenses and less income, Massachusetts companies may cut back on spending and investment, leaving employees with stagnant or lower incomes.

AIM has reached out to the US Trade Representative and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to  express concern about tariffs and to encourage the U.S. to meet with China to develop a bilateral trade agreement.  AIM is in frequent contact with trade experts in Washington in order to help member companies struggling with the negative impact of tariffs. 

It’s time to re-open the gates of free trade that have made Massachusetts, its technology and its products the envy of the rest of the world. We think that’s the best America First policy.

Click here to receive updates on the tariff issue.

Topics: International Trade, AIM International Business Council, Tariff

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