Promising signs on the dashboard

The U.S. economy posted a strong finish to 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down in 2015, according to the economic forecasters at Northern Trust Bank.

“Excluding the impact of the ‘polar vortex’ on first quarter real gross domestic product (GDP), business activity advanced at an impressive pace in 2014. If our forecast for the fourth quarter is accurate, the U.S. economy’s real GDP will show a 3.5 percent average gain in the last three quarters of the year. This performance stands out among its peers and we are projecting a similar economic momentum for 2015,” Northern Trust forecasters wrote in their recent U.S. Economic Outlook. “The recent decline in oil prices has not prompted substantial adjustments to our outlook. While lower prices are beneficial for consumers, we expect more modest investments in U.S. energy infrastructure. The net of the two might be a slight positive for growth, but not a significant one.”

That kind of bullish sentiment also is reflected in the results of the 2015 BizTimes.com Reader Economic Dashboard Survey. The vast majority of respondents are forecasting gains in revenues, profits and hiring for their companies in 2015.

Highlights from the survey for the year ahead include:

  • 71 percent are forecasting gains in revenues.
  • 64 percent are forecasting gains in profits.
  • 54 percent are forecasting gains in hiring.
  • 81 percent plan to give employee pay raises.
  • 68 percent expect to make “significant” investments in equipment.
  • 14 percent expect to expand their office/plant space.
  • 46 percent will provide an employee wellness program.
  • 48 percent expect employee health care benefit costs to increase by up to 10 percent.
  • 77 percent plan to pass along some or all of those benefit cost increases on to their employees.
  • 75 percent plan to increase their investments in branding, advertising and marketing.
  • 67 percent have a social media strategy.
  • 57 percent plan to increase the prices of their goods or services.
  • 75 percent describe the state’s business climate as “improving.”

The open-ended comments provided by readers at the end of the non-scientific survey generally reflected the political divide of our times.

“The state and (Wisconsin Gov. Scott) Walker are good, but federal policy is terrible. In particular, Obamacare,” said one respondent.

“The one missing link in our economic recovery is a living wage. We need to encourage people to work by making sure that if they do work, they can rise out of poverty. And if they make a living wage, they will spend more, and others will be able to find jobs. It is a self-fulfilling proposition. I don’t get how so many business people fail to understand this simple economic principle. If someone is willing to work full-time, they should not live in poverty. Raising the minimum wage would eliminate the need for food stamps and reward hard-working people,” said another respondent.

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