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Discover® Small Business Watchsm: Economic Confidence Remains Flat Among Small Business Owners; Little Relief Expected From Stimulus Package

February 23, 2009
More Than Half of Small Business Owners Plan to Decrease Spending on Business Development

RIVERWOODS, Ill.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 23, 2009-- Economic confidence among the nation’s 22 million small business owners remained flat in February, gaining only a half-point over the previous month in the latest Discover® Small Business WatchSM. The monthly index rose to 71.9 in February from 71.4 in January.

“Even the anticipation of a massive federal stimulus package couldn’t move the needle of economic confidence any higher for small business owners this month,” said Ryan Scully, director of Discover's business credit card. “More than half of small business owners plan to decrease spending on business development in the next six months, which matches the low point in this category set in November 2008.”

February Findings:

  • 51 percent of owners say they plan to decrease spending on business development over the next six months, up from 46 percent in January; as 21 percent plan an increase; 25 percent see no change; and 3 percent aren’t sure.
  • 19 percent of owners see conditions for their businesses improving, up from 17 percent who felt the same in January; while 54 percent see conditions getting worse, also an increase from January; 22 percent say conditions are the same; and 6 percent aren’t sure.
  • 64 percent rate the economy as poor this month, up from 61 percent in January; 26 percent rate it fair and 10 percent rate it excellent or good.
  • 12 percent feel the economic conditions in the U.S. are getting better, up from 8 percent in January. The number of owners who believe the U.S. economy is getting worse remains unchanged from January at 69 percent; as 14 percent see it staying the same; and 5 percent aren’t sure.
  • The number of owners who say they have experienced temporary cash flow issues in the past 90 days rose to 42 percent in February, up from 38 percent in January.
  • This month’s Watch also indicates that experience makes a difference in the economic confidence of small business owners. The Watch’s confidence index for owners who have only been in business for the last two years is a dismal 50.5 in February, compared to those who have been in business six to 10 years, whose confidence score is 84.8.

Little Help Expected from Federal Relief Efforts

When asked about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 70 percent of small business owners say they are not aware of any provisions in the package that could help their businesses; 16 percent aren’t sure; and only 14 percent said they were aware of elements that could help their businesses.

“It's still early to sort out the details of the package, but indications are that small business owners aren't expecting much help," Scully said.

For example, 59 percent of owners say it is not very likely or not likely at all that their businesses will benefit from the new stimulus package; 30 percent said it was somewhat likely or very likely they would see some direct benefit. Six percent weren’t sure.

Most small business owners also expressed doubts that Congress could create any stimulus package that would pull the country out of recession: 58 percent were not very or not at all confident of such an outcome; 40 percent were somewhat or very confident; and 2 percent weren’t sure.

When asked more specifically how confident they are that Congress and the federal government can address the needs of small business owners, 62 percent answered not at all or not very confident; 36 percent are somewhat or very confident; and 2 percent aren’t sure.

What’s More Helpful: Tax Cuts or Easing Credit?

When given the choice between tax cuts or easing of credit for doing more for the health of America’s small business economy, 48 percent of small business owners chose tax cuts, while 35 percent opted for easing credit and 17 percent didn’t have an opinion.

Small Business Customers Are Noticing Changes

Sixty-nine percent of consumers polled in February said they had noticed effects such as higher prices or service changes at the small businesses they frequent that are the result of the economy. Twenty percent haven’t noticed any changes and 11 percent couldn’t say.

When consumers were asked about their patronage of small businesses over the past six months, 10 percent say it has increased; 33 percent say it has decreased; 53 percent say it’s the same; and 4 percent aren’t sure.

Few Small Business Owners Seek SBA Loans

While the Small Business Administration reports that it will receive $630 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for loan programs and loan fee reductions, most small businesses would not seem to be interested.

When asked if they had ever applied for an SBA loan, 90 percent of owners said no.

If SBA loans became easier to get, 58 percent of small business owners say it is not very likely or not likely at all that they would apply; 40 percent said it was very likely or somewhat likely that they would apply; and 2 percent were unsure.

Not Ready to Quit

Sixty percent of small business owners say it is not at all or not very likely they will have to close their businesses because of the nation’s current economic problems; 22 percent said it was somewhat likely and 14 percent said it was very likely they would have to close their doors because of the economy. Four percent weren’t sure.

The views and opinions expressed by small business owners and consumers who participate in the Small Business Watch survey are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Discover Financial Services or its affiliates.

About the Small Business Watch

The Discover Small Business Watch is a monthly index measuring the relative economic confidence of U.S. small business owners who employ less than five employees, a segment that consists of 22 million businesses producing more than a trillion dollars in annual receipts. The Watch is based on a national random survey of 1,000 small business owners. It is commissioned by the Discover Business Card, which strives to offer the best business credit card for American small businesses, and is conducted by Rasmussen Reports, LLC (www.rasmussenreports.com), an independent survey research firm. The numeric index is calculated by assigning values to responses to a set of six consistent questions. The base value of the Watch was established at 100.0 based on surveys conducted in August of 2006. In addition to generating the index, the Small Business Watch surveys small business viewpoints on key business drivers, and also surveys 4,000 consumers to gauge purchasing behavior and attitudes towards small businesses. For past results and small business survey data, visit www.discovercard.com/business/watch. For information on Discover Business Card, visit www.discovercard.com/business.

About Discover Financial Services

Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS) is a leading credit card issuer and electronic payment services company with one of the most recognized brands in U.S. financial services. The company operates the Discover Card, America's cash rewards pioneer. Since its inception in 1986, the company has become one of the largest card issuers in the United States. Its payments businesses consist of the Discover Network, with millions of merchant and cash access locations; PULSE, one of the nation's leading ATM/debit networks; and Diners Club International, a global payments network with acceptance in 185 countries and territories. For more information, visit www.discoverfinancial.com.

Source: Discover Financial Services

Discover Financial Services
Jon Drummond
224-405-1888
jondrummond@discover.com
or
Robinson Lerer & Montgomery
Daniel Delson
646-805-2036
dmd@rlmnet.com