Small-Business Optimism Drops From U.S. to Germany

Optimism has declined among owners of small businesses as entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Europe find it harder to increase revenue and secure financing for new ventures, insurer Hiscox Ltd. said.

Thirty-eight percent of small-business owners said they were optimistic about the year ahead, compared to 48 percent a year earlier, according to a Hiscox survey of 3,000 people in the U.S., Germany, the U.K., France, Spain and the Netherlands. Optimism declined in all six countries, with the highest level in the U.S., at 50 percent, followed by Germany. The lowest level of optimism -- 22 percent -- was recorded in France.

Just 37 percent of respondents said that revenue increased in the last year, with the U.S. topping the survey at 48 percent, and France and Spain relegated to the bottom, with 31 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Small businesses are “anticipating tough trading conditions rather than expecting any early return to the boom years of the last decade,” Hiscox Chief Executive Officer Bronek Masojada said in a statement. The insurance firm, based in Bermuda with its primary stock listing in London, has conducted the survey for five years.

Rather than hiring, small companies are introducing new products and investing in training, Masojada said.

One in 10 owners said they would increase their workforce in the coming year. Nearly one-third had developed a new product or service in the last 12 months - with the U.S. response the lowest at 19 percent and the Spanish the highest at 39 percent.

Difficult Financing

Securing finance for new ventures is difficult, according to more than three-quarters of respondents, with only Britons saying that getting funding is easier than a year earlier.

The Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme, which gives banks incentives to boost loans, has increased lending to households and small businesses. Net lending under the scheme rose to 1.6 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) in the second quarter, the central bank said yesterday.

Britons were the least critical regarding government policy toward business, with 54 percent saying bureaucracy is a major barrier to startups and 58 percent answering that the tax system doesn’t favor entrepreneurs. Spanish business owners painted a woeful picture of trust in government, with almost 9 in 10 surveyed faulting bureaucracy and tax policy.

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