We’ve said this before: small-business owners are by nature optimistic. After all, you don’t open a business planning to fail anymore than you start writing a blog planning to…never mind. Anyway, a monthly survey by the National Federation of Independent Business presents evidence of entrepreneurs’ sunny disposition. The NFIB’s small-business optimism index reached a 13-month high in October. At the same time: survey respondents say sales remain weak and they plan to cut jobs. And a closer look shows that, while the optimism index is indeed up, it’s still at historic lows. It’s been below 90 for six straight quarters. Even in the recession of the early ’80s, it dipped under 90 for only one quarter. (We knew there was a reason to love the early ’80s…we mean, besides “Magnum PI.”)
Shoplifters of the world unite and take over. In addition to slow sales and inaccessible credit, many retailers are facing another challenge these days: the five-finger discount. The annual “Global Retail Theft Barometer” maintained by Britain’s Center for Retail Research shows shoplifting is up 6 percent from last year. Worse, it’s not justyour everyday thieves walking out of stores wearing seven cashmere sweaters, these days lots of middle-class people are pinching merchandise, everything from lipstick to expensive cheese. (Our own informal analysis indicated this trend a year ago, when we observed senior citizens heisting Splenda by the handful at our local coffeehouse.)
Chasing small-business customers. In more upbeat news, JPMorgan Chase announced recently that it will expand lending to small businesses. The nation’s second-largest bank said it plans to hand out $4 billion this year and hire 300 new bankers to focus on small clients. Why? Chase said it wants market share in this sector, which could indicate competition in the months ahead and, perhaps, easier credit all around for small-business customers.