Small business optimism falls by the most ever in March, ending a record run as coronavirus worry sets in

small business seamstress tailor

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

  • The National Federation of Independent Business optimism index fell 8.1 points in March to 96.4, the largest decline in the survey's history, according to a Tuesday statement.
  • The report also ended a record 39-month streak of positive small business optimism.
  • "The COVID-19 outbreak and regulatory responses to curtail its spread shook the small business sector in March," NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg wrote in the report. "Small business owners' outlook is bleak as they wrestle to adjust quickly to rapidly changing economic conditions."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A measure of optimism among small business owners fell by the most ever in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Federation of Independent Business optimism index fell 8.1 points in March to 96.4, the largest decline in the survey's history, according to a Tuesday statement. The dismal monthly report ended a 39-month streak of strong small business optimism. Nine of the 10 index components declined during the month.Advertisement

"The COVID-19 outbreak and regulatory responses to curtail its spread shook the small business sector in March," NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg wrote in the report. "Small business owners' outlook is bleak as they wrestle to adjust quickly to rapidly changing economic conditions."

He continued: "Many owners have had to close their doors and others are scaling back operations dramatically."

Advertisement

Read more: The US stock chief at UBS breaks down his 5-part strategy for investors looking to dominate the most uncertain earnings season in years

Efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 have meant many states have shut off major parts of the economy, banning non-essential business and telling people to practice social-distancing. In an effort to boost the economy, the Federal Reserve and the White House have taken unprecedented actions to get relief to businesses through the CARES Act and new lending facilities. Still, small business owners are worried about the future. The NFIB uncertainty index rose 12 points in March to 92, the highest since 2017. A measure of business conditions in the next six months slumped 17 points to net 5%, the largest monthly decline since November 2012. Advertisement

Real sales expectations tanked 31 points to net negative 12%, the largest monthly decline ever. Only 13% of firms said in March that it was a good time to expand, down from 26% in February. Job openings also fell to 35% from 38% in the previous month.

The NFIB survey doesn't include substantial data from the second half of March, when 10 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance amid mass coronavirus layoffs, as most responses were collected in the beginning of the month.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.

And get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

Advertisement

{{}}