RSM US LLP (RSM) – the nation’s leading provider of audit, tax and consulting services focused on the middle market – today announced results of the September reading for its RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI). Typically a quarterly index, the firm is releasing monthly installments of the MMBI for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s data revealed the MMBI composite score saw a modest increase from 124.9 in August to 128.0 in September, indicating the middle market has regained its strength following the reopening of the economy and anticipates continued improvement in the months ahead.
The September results imply that the middle market remains on an upward trajectory after a sharp rebound in August, with executives reporting their highest levels of confidence in economic and financial conditions since the first quarter of 2020. Fifty-two percent of respondents stated the economy improved in September, and 68% expect continued growth over the next six months. This optimism is reflected in executives’ expectations for revenues and earnings, with roughly 64% of respondents expecting strong gross revenues and 63% anticipating an improved earnings environment through the first quarter of 2021.
“A palpable sense of relief has swept the middle market, as demand has returned and supply chain disruptions associated with the pandemic have eased,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist, RSM US LLP. “That being said, the low-hanging fruit in terms of the recovery has all been picked, and one should anticipate moderation in any further improvement. Our model of the pandemic implies that infections are again on an upswing, and should infections begin to move back toward their summer 2020 peak, there will likely be a slowing in overall economic activity and an easing in middle market sentiment.”
While improvements in the economy underscore the middle market’s optimistic outlook, firms project a much more cautious position with respect to hiring, compensation and capital investments. Only 38% of executives noted an improvement in hiring in September, and 54% intend to boost hiring over the next six months. In addition, just 42% reported a willingness to increase compensation to support current hiring. Capital investments remain weak, with only 37% of respondents noting an increase in September and 51% expecting heightened spending through the first quarter of 2021. Given the decline in gross revenues and earnings during the pandemic, middle market firms continue to pull back on all non-essential outlays, while managing hiring, compensation and fixed business investment carefully.
Other notable findings for the September MMBI include a rise in pricing conditions, with 60% of respondents observing an increase in prices paid and 64% expecting sustainment of that trend. Additionally, inventory management has remained paramount, with only 40% of respondents stating they increased inventories in September and 54% expecting to do so in the next six months. This implies that business leaders are preparing for a weak holiday spending season, as middle market firms have historically started shoring up inventories around this time in years past, in anticipation of holiday-induced demand.
RSM will continue to publish monthly installments of the MMBI for the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic. To stay informed with the latest insights, ideas and countermeasures to minimize the outbreak’s negative effects as well as prepare for future emergency events, visit RSM’s COVID-19 Resource Center. It also includes information about the $600 billion Main Street Lending Program and related measures from the federal government that are meant to stem the fallout from this global health crisis.
The September MMBI data was collected between September 10 and September 24, 2020.
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