Most businesses don’t expect return to normal until after first quarter, MMAC survey finds

Economic indicators

Last updated on October 27th, 2020 at 12:58 pm

A majority of businesses surveyed by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce do not expect normal business activity to resume until after the first quarter of 2021.

The survey, conducted in early October with responses from 104 companies, found 47% of respondents expect normal conditions to return in the final three quarters of next year. Another 15% said normal conditions would return after 2021.

A Marquette University Law School poll earlier this month found a similar result for when people expect the coronavirus to be under control. Twenty-one percent expect it to be in control in six months – just after the end of the first quarter – another 28% said it would be controlled in a year and 22% said it would take more than a year.

When MMAC asked a similar question in July, just 8% said the recovery would stretch into 2022. In the July survey, 20% expected normal to return in the third quarter of this year and 23% expected it to return in the fourth quarter.

In the latest survey, 16% of respondents said they have already returned to normal levels and another 5% expect to return to normal levels in the fourth quarter.

Two-thirds of manufacturers said they don’t expect normal levels to return until after the first quarter, slightly higher than non-manufacturers at 61%.

The survey found 63% of both large and small firms expect normal levels to return after the first quarter, but, at 23%, large firms with more than 100 employees were more likely to say they were already back to normal. Just 13% of small firms said they had returned to pre-pandemic activity levels.

Nearly half, 47%, of respondents said they were not concerned at all about remaining a viable business, although that optimism was stronger among large firms and manufacturers. The survey did find 12% of respondents were very concerned about their business remaining viable.

Businesses did express some optimism in the survey, including 63% expecting a sales increase in 2021 after adjusting for inflation. Another 22% expect a sales decline and 14% expect no change. The optimism was stronger among manufacturers and smaller firms.

The survey also found better wage expectations compared to the July survey when employers expected just a 0.2% increase in per person wages over the next 12 months. This month, employers forecasted a 1.5% increase, with stronger gains at non-manufactures and smaller companies.

In the first quarter of 2020, respondents forecasted a 3.1% increase in wages.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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