TDK Technologies Principal David Kocs was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, talking about market activity and business outlook. 

 

March Sees Thaw in Chilly Small-Business Outlook

Survey Shows Renewed Confidence Among Small Firms

By ANGUS LOTEN 

Updated March 26, 2014 7:28 p.m. ET

 

Many small firms expect the economy to improve along with the weather.

That's the takeaway from the March results of the Wall Street Journal/Vistage International Small Business CEO survey, showing an increase in the confidence level of business owners whose ventures have less than $20 million in revenue.

Of 903 small-business owners and executive surveyed online from March 16 to 21, 47% said overall economic conditions had improved from a year ago, up from 43% in February, while just 9% said they felt conditions would get worse in the months ahead, down from 14%. The share of businesses anticipating better sales was unchanged from February at 74%, up from 69% a year ago.

The survey's confidence index—based on survey responses from small-business owners around the U.S. on issues ranging from economic conditions to hiring and spending plans—rose to 107.4, from 106.1 in February, when many businesses grappled with the effects of severe winter storms. The index has a baseline score of 100.

David Kocs, a principle at TDK Technologies LLC, a technology consulting firm in St. Louis, Mo., with over 100 employees, says his firm's sales have increased by 30% compared to the same period last year, as financial firms, manufacturers and other commercial clients "loosen their wallets" and upgrade computer systems, he says. Mr. Kocs says he expects to meet year-end sales projections within the next few weeks, with revenue hitting $13.5 million by the end of the year, up from $11.7 million in 2013. "We're very encouraged," he adds.

Ira Holtzman, the owner of Lower Electric LLC, an energy broker in Northbrook, Ill., with 18 employees, says revenue is already up about 15% over last year. He says the colder winter helped the firm, by raising awareness about local utility prices. But, he adds, the so-called "polar vortex" was a double-edged sword, since many of its 3,000 commercial clients, including banks, schools and nursing homes, saw energy prices rise sharply.

He plans to hire a few new workers and invest in updated software in the months ahead: "We're willing to put some money back into the business. It's a good time to grow," he says.

The brighter outlook is prompting more firms to put money back into their businesses, with 46% of survey respondents planning to boost spending on equipment and facilities, roughly unchanged over the past three month at an 18-month high. Another 59% said they expect to hire new workers, inching up from 58% last month and 53% in March 2013.

Richard Curtin, a University of Michigan researcher who analyzed the March results, said the latest results seem to illustrate that small firms have shaken off their past uncertainties over federal policies, which dogged their confidence in the economy last year. Now, they seem to be looking ahead to a speedier economic recovery.

The gains align with a similar boost in consumer confidence. On Tuesday, the Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of consumer-confidence rose to 82.3 in March, from 78.3 in February, as consumers increased spending at restaurants, retailers and other services.

Write to Angus Loten at angus.loten@wsj.com

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