More businesses saw higher costs for materials, labour in first quarter, report finds

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – Rising costs for materials and labour appear to be pressuring businesses, according to a quarterly survey from the National Association of Business Economics.

During the first quarter of the year, 31 per cent of businesses surveyed reported higher material costs, more than double the 15 per cent that saw costs rise in the previous survey. Additionally, 35 per cent reported rising wages and salaries at their businesses in the past three months, up from 23 per cent in January.

Yet those who said they raised the prices they charge in the past three months remained unchanged at 20 per cent, according to the latest NABE survey of 72 members, which was conducted between March 18 and April 1.

“It appears that businesses were not able to pass on costs increases, resulting in increased pressure on margins,” the survey findings said.

The quarterly survey by NABE is intended to gauge business conditions at members’ firms or industries. The April survey reflects first quarter results, as well as the near-term outlook.

Despite the cost pressures, businesses seem more upbeat about the direction of the broader economy. The survey found that 80 per cent said they expect the GDP to rise at least 2 per cent over the next year. Nearly three-quarters also said they expect labour market conditions to improve, with unemployment easing to between 5 per cent and 6 per cent in the next one to three years. And over the next six months, 43 per cent of respondents expect their firms to expand employment.

Still, a majority expect wage growth to remain subdued, with growth of up to 3 per cent over the next three years.

The number of businesses that reported rising sales in the first quarter fell to 53 per cent, down from 63 per cent in the previous quarter. Jack Kleinhenz, president of NABE and chief economist at the National Retail Federation attributed the decline to “a very rough winter” in a statement.

Capital spending rose for 38 per cent of respondents, up from 28 per cent in January. Meanwhile, those reporting rising profit margins during the period declined slightly to 32 per cent, from 34 per cent in the previous survey.

Looking ahead to the coming quarter, 41 per cent said they expect costs to increase up to 5 per cent. Whether they’ll be able to pass that on to customers is uncertain; 31 per cent said they expect their businesses to raise prices. That’s down from the 43 per cent who said they planned to raise prices in January, but still an elevated level from most of last year.

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