PNC survey: Happy days are here again

In Ohio, business owners are more optimistic than they have been since the spring of 2012, according to the most recent PNC Economic Outlook. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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In Ohio, business owners are more optimistic than they have been since the spring of 2012, according to the most recent PNC Economic Outlook. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Business owners in Ohio are more optimistic than they have been in five years, expecting good things to happen not only with their own enterprises but with the economy as a whole.

That’s the assessment of PNC’s spring 2017 Economic Outlook, released Thursday.

The survey found 56 percent of business owners expect their sales to increase, the highest percentage since the spring of 2012, and well above the 48 percent who were optimistic in the spring of 2016.

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A full 94 percent said they were optimistic about the economy, the highest percentage since 85 percent expressed optimism in the spring of 2014.

Still, the survey found a “mixed” attitude regarding Congress and the Trump administration. More than a third, 37 percent, said they “expect the policies of the new administration and Congress in general to have a positive impact on their business this year.”

The survey also found 34 percent said it was too early to predict what impact federal policies will have, while 14 percent predicted no impact. PNC said 11 percent expects federal policies to have a negative impact.

PNC Economist Mekael Teshome attributes the optimism to real improvements in the economy, growth that has been eight years in the making. Jobless rates have been trending lower, he observed.

And yes, the change in administrations does play a role in attitudes, Teshome said Thursday. About two-thirds (66 percent) of surveyed owners said tax reform would have the most impact on their businesses.

“Generally speaking, throughout our footprint, we found that business owners are optimistic about tax reform and think it would be a positive,” Teshome said. “The overwhelming majority among Ohio respondents were much more upbeat about that.”

The survey doesn’t distinguish between regions in the state. But Teshome said PNC tries to make the survey representative of the state. “It’s not heavy on Columbus or Dayton, per se,” he said.

Optimism about local economies is strong, too — 89 percent, up from 65 percent, expect local conditions to improve, he added.

“That’s a big enough of a jump to lead me to believe the enthusiasm is perhaps broad-based across the state,” Teshome said.

Nationally, gross domestic product grew only 0.7 percent in the first quarter of the year, surprisingly low to some.

Teshome said “confidence indicators” are ahead of what the “hard data” suggests is going on with the economy. But he expects at some point the two will converge.

“Expectations will likely pare back to meet reality, but the reality is things are getting better,” he said.

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