Small Business Economic Trends (SBET) is a monthly assessment of the U.S. small-business economy and its near-term prospects. Its data are collected through mail surveys to random samples of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) membership. NFIB is the largest small business trade association in the country with members scattered across every state and every industry grouping. Despite the organization-based sampling frame, the SBET has proven to be a reliable gauge of small business economic activity over time, and its results regularly appear in the electronic and print media.
SBET first appeared in October 1973 and was issued quarterly until January 1986, when it became a monthly publication. The survey instrument on which the SBET is based has changed little over the more than 40 years since its initiation. The survey contains three broad question types: recent performance, near-term forecasts, and demographics. The topics addressed include: outlook, sales, earnings, employment, employee compensation, investment, inventories, credit conditions, and single most important problem.
Dennis, WJ, Jr. and WC Dunkelberg (2000). “Small Business Economic Trends: A Quarter Century Longitudinal Data Base of Small Business Economic Activity,” Advances in Entrepreneurship, Firm Emergence, and Growth. Volume 4, Databases for the Study of Entrepreneurship. (ed.) JA Katz. JAI: Amsterdam.
Click here for a current copy of the SBET survey questionnaire. Questions appearing at the end of the survey regarding the nature of compensation increases are not yet available because they have been recently added.
The Index of Small Business Optimism
The Small Business Optimism Index is a composite of ten SBET indicators that provides a monthly, summary data point for the state of the small business economy. It is a coincident indicator of the national economy, though it also offers direction for the small business sector’s immediate prospects. The ten indicators include: good time to expansion, general economic outlook, expected sales, current earnings, planned capital outlays, current job openings, hiring plans, inventory status, expected inventory change, and expected credit conditions.
Chow, MJ (2012), Small Business Indicators of Macro-Economic Performance: An Update, July.
SBET data are also published by major industry and geographic region on a quarterly basis. Survey data for each of the prior three months are aggregated into totals (each month weighted equally). The three month totals yield sufficient cases to provide meaningful results for separate industries and regions.
The industries for which NFIB provides data include: agriculture, construction, manufacturing, wholesale, retail, financial services, professional services, and non-professional services. The industry data appear in March (for the months of December, January, and February), June (for the months of March, April, and May), September (for the months of June, July, and August), and December (for the months of September, October, and November).
The United States changed industrial coding schemes from Standard Industrial Codes (SICs) to North American Industry Codes (NAICs) in 1997. The SBET questionnaire therefore started under the SIC system. But at that time, the narrowly defined service industries created classification problems for development of an industry question. The solution was to divide the services into three groups, financial services, professional services, and non-professional services. The division of the latter two groups was particularly arbitrary. However, the change to the NAICs coding came very close in practice to NFIB’s professional and non-professional services. The NAICs professional, scientific, and technical services, health and social services, and educational services combined, approximate professional services. The NAICs administrative, support, and waste management services, accommodation and food services, and “other” services combined, approximate the non-professional services. Only the arts, leisure and recreation services in NAICs, a modestly populated industry, seem to overlap, but most would fall in the latter classification. The consequence of the 1973 decision about the service sectors allowed the identical industry question to be maintained throughout the survey’s existence in spite of the SICs to NAICs switch. Anomalies do exist. For example, NFIB still lists printing as manufacturing while in NAICs it lies in the new information sector. Yet, for all intents and purposes, NFIB industries, including service industries, will be very familiar to most readers.
The NFIB Research Foundation also produces SBET data by geographic region. The regions are the eight commonly used by the Bureau of the Census. There are two exceptions. The Foundation collapses New England and the Middle Atlantic regions, leaving just seven rather than the traditional eight. The reason is New England’s relatively small population and the need to have sufficient cases to produce meaningful results. The second is changes in the bland, bureaucratic names sometimes given regions. With all due respect to update New York, the Great Lakes is the name given the East North Central region. Similarly, the West North Central is now the Plains and West South Central is now the West Gulf region, and the combined New England and Middle Atlantic regions become the North Atlantic region.
A list of regions and the states that comprise them follow:
- North Atlantic (CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT)
- South Atlantic (AL, DC, DE, FL, GA, KY, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV)
- Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH, WI)
- Plains – (IA, KS, MN, MO, ND, NE, SD)
- West Gulf – (AR, LA, OK, TX)
- Mountain – (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, UT, WY)
- Pacific – (AK, CA, HI, OR, WA)
The regions for which NFIB provides data are listed immediately above. The regional data appear in February (for the months of November, December, and January), May (for the months of February, March, and April), August (for the months of May, June and July), and November (for the months of August, September, and October).
NFIB Research Foundation
The NFIB Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) education and charitable affiliate of the National Federation of Independent Business, produces Small Business Economic Trends. The Foundation was established to promote greater understanding of small business and the conditions that impact it. Today, it produces and disseminates various surveys, simulations, and studies on small business, focusing on public policy impacts. The NFIB Research Foundation is located at 1201 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.