America's small-business owners—those with five or fewer employees—remained cautious about the economy in February as they expect economic conditions to largely stay the same in the coming months, according to the Discover Small Business Watch, which fell less than a point to 84.9 in February from 85.5 in January. The index is up 13 points over the mark of 71.9 registered in February 2009.
• 49 percent of owners have experienced cash flow issues in the past 90 days, down from 51 percent in January; 47 percent of owners have not experienced cash flow issues, and 4 percent are not sure.
• The number of small-business owners who think the economy is getting better is unchanged in February at 31 percent; 44 percent see the economy getting worse, down from 46 percent in January; 24 percent see the economy staying the same, up from 18 percent last month; and 1 percent are not sure.
• 25 percent of small-business owners see conditions for their own businesses getting better in the next six months, down from 29 percent in January; 37 percent see conditions getting worse, down from 43 percent in January; 34 percent expect things to stay the same, up from 23 percent in January; and 4 percent aren't sure.
• 4 percent rate the economy as good or excellent, down from 8 percent in January; 36 percent rate the current economy as fair, and 57 percent rate it as poor.
• 21 percent of owners plan to increase business development spending on activities such as advertising, inventories and capital expenditures over the next six months, down from 25 percent in January; 34 percent plan to make no changes, while 43 percent will decrease spending, down from 45 percent in January.
• 70 percent of owners say that federal stimulus efforts have had no impact on their businesses, while 17 percent say it has actually hurt their businesses. Only 10 percent reported being helped by federal efforts.
• Small-business owners' confidence in the federal government to help them out continues to decline: 76 percent of small-business owners are "not very confident" or "not at all confident" that the federal government and Congress can address the needs of America's small business owners, up from 62 percent in February 2009. Only 7 percent are "very confident" that the federal government can address their needs, down from 12 percent last year, and 15 percent are "somewhat confident," down from 24 percent last year.
• When asked the last time they hired a full-time employee, 44 percent said they have always been sole proprietors, while 30 percent said it has been more than two years, 11 percent in the last one to two years, 7 percent in the last year and 2 percent in the last month. The remaining 6 percent weren't sure.
• 71 percent of owners say that the current economic climate has hurt their business, up from 69 percent in October 2009. Of this group, 41 percent say that it will be more than 12 months before their business rebounds, down from 43 percent in October; 21 percent say it will be six to 12 months, down from 24 percent in October; and 8 percent think a recovery will happen in less than six months, down from 13 percent in October.
• When asked what would do more for the health of small businesses: tax cuts or easing of credit, 48 percent of owners chose tax cuts over the easing of credit at 31 percent, with 21 percent unsure which would be better.
• Small-business owners remain uninterested in Small Business Administration loans: 91 percent of owners say that they have never applied for an SBA loan, up 1 percentage point from October 2009.
• Of those who have never applied for an SBA loan, 54 percent say they did not need one; 13 percent would rather use personal assets, 13 percent received a loan from another source, 11 percent are unfamiliar with the programs and 6 percent say it takes too much time. At the same time, 61 percent of small business owners are "not very likely" or "not at all likely" to apply for a SBA loan if they become easier to get.
The Watch surveys small businesses with five or fewer employees, who don't always share the same concerns of larger small businesses, such as those with more than 100 workers. When asked how similar their issues are to their larger brethren, 66 percent of small-business owners said their issues are "not very similar" or "not at all similar," while 6 percent said they were "very similar" and 19% said they were "somewhat similar."
The Discover Small Business Watch is a monthly index of the economic confidence of the nation's 22 million businesses with 5 or fewer employees. Visit www.discover.com.