Middle Market Companies Report Confidence in Economy

By Generational Equity


Middle market business leaders have reported unprecedented optimism about their company’s prospects, but also see a few worrisome trends on the horizon. These opinions are tracked in a quarterly survey conducted by the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM).

Now in its sixth year, the Middle Market Indicator survey documents the opinions of approximately 1,000 middle market company c-suite executives, with annual revenues between $10 million and $1 billion. The report states:

“Overall, [2017] was the strongest year for middle market employment growth in Middle Market Indicator history. Confidence levels are at near record highs to close the year, and a large majority of leaders prefer investing extra cash as opposed to saving it.”

While all industry segments grew in 2017, growth was most pronounced in business services, construction, and financial services. All industries have slowed hiring rates with the exception of construction.

Surveyed business leaders feel increasing concern about maintaining current growth rates in the face of changing market conditions, and half expect to struggle to retain the talent needed to achieve corporate goals.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Surveyed companies closed 2017 with a year-over-year revenue growth rate of 7.6%, up from 6.9% at the end of 2016. 62% of companies expect revenue to grow in 2018.
  • Hiring rates are slowing. A slight majority (52%) of surveyed companies expanded their workforce in 2017, but that rate is expected to slow in 2018 with 43% expecting to hire more workers in the year ahead.
  • Business leaders are overwhelmingly positive about their prospects with 88% expressing confidence in their local economy, 86% confident in the national economy and 75% confident about the global economy.
  • 69% would put an extra dollar of revenue to work immediately through investment, primarily through new plants and equipment, or IT improvements and upgrades.
  • Talent management leads the long-term challenges that businesses face with retention, recruitment, increasing salary pressures and health care costs cited as issues.
  • Companies expect their profit margins to increase in 2018, but more slowly than in 2017.
  • Companies are expanding into new territories, getting innovation to market, and are reluctant to take on new debt.

As we have discussed before, a positive economic outlook generally feeds a very upbeat M&A forecast as well. Certainly most analysts expect 2018 and 2019 to be a continuation of the very strong M&A seller’s market we are currently experiencing.

This is important to remember if you are an owner of a privately held business. We have never met a business owner who regretted getting started on his exit plans too early! However, we meet many who lament that they waited too long. Now may be the time for you as well.

If you would like professional advice on successfully timing your exit strategy, join us at a complimentary executive conference. Held throughout the U.S. and Canada, these will share the importance of good timing when selling a business, and how to choose the right moment to pursue the optimal offer.

NCMM is based at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. Learn more about the survey results, including results from your state and industry and quarterly reports going back to 2012.

By Carl Doerksen, Director of Corporate Development at Generational Equity.

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