Private Company Optimism the Highest in Nearly a Decade
Three-fifths of private companies plan to add fulltime equivalent employees in the coming year, but net hiring continues to shrink, reports PwC US’s latest Private CompanyTrendsetter Barometer®. Despite the most optimistic outlook for the US economy since 2006, employment growth at private companies remains modest due to difficulty in finding qualified workers, among other factors.
Trendsetter companies surveyed in the fourth quarter expect their fulltime equivalent employment to inch up by 1.6 percent in 2015 – below 2014’s overall increase of 1.7 percent –even though these companies report economic confidence, stronger revenue forecasts, and significant gains in profitability over the past 12 months.
Fully one-third of survey respondents said they were unable to fill open positions over the past year, but if they had, their yearly fulltime equivalent hiring might have reached 2.6 percent in 2014 instead of 1.7 percent. Technology and engineering professionals are most in demand. Blue collar workers are less sought after, with many of them having been out of the workforce since the recession and needing new skills to reenter it now.
Spending Holds Steady, Even with Misgivings about World Economy
Despite hiring challenges, 2014 proved a good year for private companies, particularly with respect to domestic activity. Revenues forecasts climbed, capital spending held strong, and profitability reached its highest level in nearly a decade.
In fact, when asked about the US economy, 73 percent of Trendsetter companies described it as growing – the largest share in years, and double that of about two years ago. This may owe in part, to the fall of energy prices, which has led to reduced cost pressure and more disposable income for many consumers.
However, the gap between private companies’ increasingly positive view of the economy and their misgivings about the global economy continues to widen. This past quarter, only 31 percent described the world economy as expanding. Weakness abroad means increased pressure on exporters, requiring US companies that sell internationally to keep an eye on evolving conditions in foreign economies.
Growth Opportunities for the Year Ahead
But private-company growth prospects remain buoyant with five-of-six Trendsetter executives (83 percent) forecasting positive growth in 2015. Moreover, former impediments to growth hit new lows: fewer companies expressed concerns about foreign competition, regulatory pressures, energy prices, and the strength of the dollar than last quarter.
One clear danger persists: the steady increase in the number of companies that worry about finding qualified workers. Thirty-seven percent are now voicing this concern, up nearly 10 points from a year ago and at its highest since the first quarter of 2008, when 40 percent of companies fretted about the skills gap.
Additional Survey Findings
• On average, private companies are looking forward to 9.2 percent revenue growth in the next 12 months – the highest rate since early 2012.
• Almost two-thirds of private company leaders said, before year-end 2014, they would hit or exceed their full-year revenue targets, and another one-quarter said they would catch up to their sales targets by mid-2015.
• On average, companies are budgeting 2.76 percent in hourly wage increases for the next year, compared with 2.69 percent during the fourth quarter of 2013.