RSM US Middle Market Business Index Dips Modestly in February; Middle Market Leaders Remain Optimistic About What’s To Come
As overall economic sentiment holds steady, the middle market is shifting focus to rising prices as the economy reflates amid still-constrained supply chains.
RSM US LLP (“RSM”) – the nation’s leading provider of audit, tax and consulting services focused on the middle market – recently announced results of the February 2021 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. February’s data revealed that the MMBI composite score remained stout, down only modestly from 123.8 in January to 120.5. While executives’ views on the economy, earnings, revenues, hiring and compensation have not materially changed over the past month, the results demonstrate a growing conversation around rising prices in the middle market.
The February MMBI data revealed that while 58% of executives surveyed noted that they faced higher prices paid for goods – which was down from 66% in January – only 17% reported a decline in prices. However, on the question of forward-looking prices paid, 69% said they expect to pay higher prices, 10% expect lower prices and the remainder expect no change. Additionally, only 38% respondents said that they received higher prices for goods or services, 23% said those prices had decreased and 39% noted there was no change. Fifty-nine percent of respondents stated that they intend to try to pass along price increases over the next six months, and 31% said they expect not to pass along those increases; 9% said they expect to cut prices, which will likely be absorbed by thinner margins.
“This month’s reading indicates that middle market firms are skeptical of their ability to pass along price increases, and while a majority intend to try, the reopening of the global economy and what we expect to be a hypercompetitive post-pandemic economy, will create challenges,” said RSM Chief Economist Joe Brusuelas. “However, it’s important to note that this data does not point to an immediate and permanent increase in the price level across the economy. Rather, it points to a temporary disruption in supply chains, and a transitory increase in inflation caused by the first few months of the pandemic. The immediate focus in the middle market should be on increasing efficiencies and engaging in productivity-enhancing investments to address supply chain constraints as they wait for prices to return to pre-pandemic equilibria.”
The February MMBI also included notable findings on hiring, compensation and capital expenditures. It is important to note that the U.S. economy and the middle market are comprised of a significant number of firms that provide services, which means that inflation is primarily a function of wage pressures. Currently, only 32% of firms reported an increase in compensation, 21% noted a cut and 45% stated that wages and salaries remained unchanged. While 56% noted they would increase compensation over the next six months, this data is not consistent with a permanent increase in inflation through the wage channel that would alter both the Federal Reserve’s and RSM’s inflationary outlook.
In terms of capital expenditures, only 29% of executives increased investment on software, equipment and intellectual property in February, and 47% intend to do so over the next six months. As the economy reopens, this is one area of the real economy where there will need to be a noticeable improvement.
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.
The February 2021 MMBI data was collected between February 8 and February 19, 2021.
About the RSM US Middle Market Business Index
RSM US LLP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have partnered to present the RSM US Middle Market Business Index (MMBI). It is based on research of middle market firms conducted by Harris Poll, which began in the first quarter of 2015. The survey is conducted four times a year, in the first month of each quarter: January, April, July and October. The survey panel consists of 700 middle market executives and is designed to accurately reflect conditions in the middle market.
Built in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, the MMBI is borne out of the subset of questions in the survey that ask respondents to report the change in a variety of indicators. Respondents are asked a total of 20 questions patterned after those in other qualitative business surveys, such as those from the Institute of Supply Management and National Federation of Independent Businesses.
The 20 questions relate to changes in various measures of their business, such as revenues, profits, capital expenditures, hiring, employee compensation, prices paid, prices received and inventories. There are also questions that pertain to the economy and outlook, as well as to credit availability and borrowing. For 10 of the questions, respondents are asked to report the change from the previous quarter; for the other 10 they are asked to state the likely direction of these same indicators six months ahead.
The responses to each question are reported as diffusion indexes. The MMBI is a composite index computed as an equal weighted sum of the diffusion indexes for 10 survey questions plus 100 to keep the MMBI from becoming negative. A reading above 100 for the MMBI indicates that the middle market is generally expanding; below 100 indicates that it is generally contracting. The distance from 100 is indicative of the strength of the expansion or contraction.
About RSM US LLP
RSM’s purpose is to deliver the power of being understood to our clients, colleagues and communities through world-class audit, tax and consulting services focused on middle market businesses. The clients we serve are the engine of global commerce and economic growth, and we are focused on developing leading professionals and services to meet their evolving needs in today’s ever-changing business environment.
RSM US LLP is the U.S. member of RSM International, a global network of independent audit, tax and consulting firms with 48,000 people across 120 countries. For more information, visit rsmus.com, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and/or connect with us on LinkedIn.