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M&T survey: About 34 percent of owners say election could hurt their businesses

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Mid-sized companies are cautiously optimistic about their own business prospects but they are growing more worried about the economic outlook this election year, according to the latest survey from M&T’s commercial banking division.

For the first time since 2012’s federal budget battles, the share of middle-market companies that expect the economy to slow is higher than the percentage that expect it to grow – 25 to 23 percent.

Despite that, businesses’ operating plans were mostly positive. A quarter of mid-sized firms expect to increase employment by December and 32 percent plan to hike capital spending.

One in three companies report the upcoming presidential election is negatively affecting their business plans, and the same proportion say concern about possible interest rates hike is weighing on them.

Many respondents voiced concern about the election, with 34 percent saying the outcome could have a negative impact on their businesses.

Feedback suggests sentiment is growing gloomier, but the survey showed business fundamentals remain resilient. M&T predicted economic growth should continue to advance slowly through the end of 2016.

Here are some of the key findings:
•    About 18 percent of middle-market firms say the economy has improved over the past six months. That’s down significantly from a year ago, when the 38 percent did.
•    About 20 percent say the U.S. economy is weaker, almost double the number for last September.
•    About 25 percent of middle-market businesses say they expect sales to grow in the next six months. That compares with 46 percent last year.
•    About 32 percent said they expect to hike their capital spending this year, compared with 40 percent last year.
•    Almost half the firms said regulations and municipal or state taxes are the biggest challenges but shortages of qualified job applicants is also a problem.
•     Only 20 percent of commercial real estate firms expect the national economy to improve in the next six months, down from 47 percent a year ago.
•    About 33 percent said they expect the outlook for their own industries to improve over the next six months – down from 42 percent in the third quarter of last year.

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