U.S. small business owners are planning to put capital spending on hold next year, according to a recent survey by Gallup. Only 20% of business owners expect to increase capital spending in 2013, compared with 34% who expect to spend less. The difference yields Gallup’s index reading of -14, the lowest level in more than two years.
Capital spending plans reached a low reading of -23 in November 2008 and were slightly positive in the first half of this year before turning neutral in the third quarter.
The November survey also showed that 40% of small business owners cut their capital spending in the past 12 months, compared with 18% who increased spending. The index reading of -22 is roughly equal to a reading of -24 in October of last year.
Gallup notes a pattern of deferred capital spending since the recession of 2008-2009:
[M]any small businesses have experienced multiple capital spending deferrals and as a result are falling behind their competition, not only in capital improvements, but also in the use of new technologies. The longer this capital investment squeeze continues, the more of a threat it poses to the ultimate survival of any company in today’s intensely competitive operating environment.
Gallup also suggests a “potential for explosive capital spending” when the U.S. economy gets back on a sustainable growth path.