JPMorgan Chase survey: Business leaders’ optimism hits record high

PROVIDENCE – Midsize business leaders are more optimistic than ever about their companies’ futures, according to a new survey by JPMorgan Chase & Co. published on Monday.

The confidence expressed by nine in ten business leaders surveyed for the 2021 Business Leaders Outlook Pulse Survey is the highest in the biannual survey’s 11-year history, according to a press release. It also represents a 56% increase over optimism in company performance a year ago, during the height of the pandemic.

That rosy outlook holds true in Rhode Island, where at least anecdotally, most clients are sharing similar success stories and high expectations, according to Christopher Stevens, who serves as JPMorgan’s executive director for commercial banking in Rhode Island. Stevens in an interview with PBN pointed to these interactions as evidence that Rhode Island was not being left behind in the economic rebound, and that its historic recession position “first in, last out” perhaps no longer holds true. 

Newfound confidence is also translating to major growth plans, with 80% of companies anticipating a rise in revenue and sales; 46% planning big capital expenditures and 38% expecting to increase credit needs for the rest of 2021, according to the survey. 

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“After enduring the challenges of the last year and a half, businesses are feeling overwhelmingly positive about what’s ahead,” Jim Glassman, head economist for JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking, said in a statement. “The focus now is on navigating growing pains to harness the momentum of the economic recovery, which is comparatively a good problem to have.” 

Many of JPMorgan’s Rhode Island business clients are also considering debt or mergers and acquisitions as a way to grow their companies, according to Stevens. Alternatively, selling to private equity firms is also a popular option or consideration given the “hot” investor market, Stevens said.

While the survey shows most companies have or anticipate strong recovery from the pandemic, the way they do business will be forever changed. More than six in ten business leaders surveyed have added new products or service lines; while nearly four in ten have expanded digital offerings such as ecommerce stores or electronic accounts payable. The rise in digital has also helped 38% expand into new geographic areas, according to the survey.

“Businesses are proving yet again that when put to the test, they adapt, innovate and rise to the occasion – and in many cases, become stronger and gain market share,” John Simmons, head of middle market banking and specialized industries, said in a statement.

The workplaces of many companies are also going to be different, with 38% of companies expecting all employees to return to the office full-time. By comparison, 26% have started flexible working policies.

Still, challenges remain, with ongoing supply chain issues, as well as uncertain economic conditions and a tight labor market topping the list of concerns among business leaders surveyed. Yet many locally are optimistic these challenges, particularly the supply chain issues and inflationary pressures, will be temporary, Stevens said.

Cybersecurity attacks are also a growing concern, with one-third of companies being victims of cyberattacks or fraud since March 2020, according to the survey.

The survey reflects results from 1,375 executives of companies with $20 to $500 million in annual revenue. 

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.