Waning Sales Growth at Private Firms May Threaten Jobs

Closely held U.S. companies are increasing sales at half the rate they did earlier in the year, signaling they may try to cut labor expenses, their biggest cost, according to financial information firm Sageworks Inc.

Average annual revenue growth for companies tracked by Sageworks was about 5.4 percent in September compared with 11 percent in January, Chief Executive Officer Brian Hamilton said at a presentation in New York. His company analyzes data from 1,400 industries, reviewing about 1,000 financial statements a day.

“We are concerned with the very steep decline in the rate of growth,” said Hamilton, who declined to specify whether companies would lay off workers or limit hiring. “Nobody can predict the next recession, but this trend is sort of similar to what we saw back in 2008.”

Sales growth at closely held companies dropped to 5.6 percent in 2008 from 8.5 percent the year before, according to the Raleigh, North Carolina-based firm.

The U.S. unemployment rate, which stood at 8.1 percent in August, hasn’t dropped below 8 percent since January 2009. Tomorrow’s report from the Labor Department may show the rate increased to 8.2 percent in September, according to the median estimate from economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Companies may be reluctant to expand their workforces amid a global economic slowdown and the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and government spending cuts, said Brian Jones, a senior U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York.

“At the end of the day, uncertainty paralyzes people,” he said. “You’d like to think some sort of light switch is going to go on once we get beyond the presidential election, but you still have to encounter these fiscal hurdles.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Stilwell in New York at vstilwell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net

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