Are small businesses a better sign of a recovery than the stock market?

Posted by on April 20, 2009 in entrepreneur, Investment Information

The North American stock markets have been steadily rising for over a month. Many of the major financial institutions are reporting a return to profits and an expectation that things are returning to normal.  Recent research by JP Morgan points out that most bear markets last, on average, 19-21 months and this bear market is on month 17. Is the recent rise in the fortunes of publicly traded companies a sign that the economy is recovering?

It could be. But, is the media focusing on the wrong source of where a true recovery will come from? Does the better sign of a true recovery reside in looking at the fate of  small and medium sized businesses (SME’s)?

Consider the following statistics:

Thus, while looking at broad based stock indexes may show how publicly-traded companies are doing, it may NOT be the best sign of whether a true economic recovery has began. It merely shows how a small segment of the overall economy is doing. If SME’s are the true job creators, and we assume job creation is a sign that the entire economy is turning for the positive and all the positive economic effects that result from a falling unemployment rate, the better place to determine whether a recovery is occurring is at the SME level.

Obviously, there is a multiplier effect when large publicly traded businesses expand and the interconnection between all businesses exists in a regulatory environment that has encouraged the free movement of capital. But, from a community perspective, publicly traded companies serve their shareholders and, as we saw during the apex of the out-sourcing fad, job creation on the publicly traded company level does not have the same localized effects as a SME expanding in your community. There is a better chance a local restaurateur who does well will spend it in the community over a large financial institution doing well.

We tend to fixate on the Dow Jones or the TSX 60 numbers simply because: (i) it is easy to obtain; (ii) most business columnist have high finance backgrounds, or their sources are in high finance, so they gravitate towards which they understand; and (iii) they tell us how our investments are doing.

However, a true recovery will occur when the local merchant feels confident not when the banker in his glass tower does. In other words, shop at your neighborhood merchant and not the big box store since you will see the effects more directly in your daily life.

I run a peroidic entrepreneurship column but Rick Spence devotes an entire blog on it (Seth Godin’s blog is also very good but with more a marketing spin). Check them both out.

2 Comments on Are small businesses a better sign of a recovery than the stock market?

By Silicon Prairie on April 20, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Unfortunately it’s hard to measure the success of small businesses in general – but that doesn’t mean that everyone should fixate on an inadequate substitute. You may be able to get a feel for what’s happening near you but that could just be a regional effect.

In terms of helping a recovery I don’t think spending locally would do much for me, since only a small fraction of my income is even in-province. Many people are in a similar situation, with jobs that depend on others far away. If you try to spend everything locally are you just cutting down on the same thing that keeps you employed?

By Rob Smorfitt on April 20, 2009 at 1:22 pm

While SMEs are a good indicator of economic health, they are lagging indicators in respect of big business. Many tend to rely on big business for their income, and therefore they grow once big business starts to grow.

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