Business economists expect slower sales, economic growth

WASHINGTON: Business economists are more pessimistic about their firms' future sales and profits than they were last fall, and more predict slower economic growth, a survey found.

At the same time, a majority of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics said their firms plan to raise wages in the January-March quarter. That is the largest proportion that expects to raise pay since mid-2014.

Aside from the planned pay rise, the survey paints a mostly gloomy view of the economy at the start of 2016. Fewer than half the economists expect sales at their firms to rise in the first quarter, the smallest proportion since January 2015. And nearly 20 percent expect profits to fall, the most in more than a year.

For the first time in three years, more than 25 percent of the Business economists forecast that growth will slip below 2 percent over the next year. As recently as April, 30 percent expected growth would top 3 percent in the following 12 months. That figure fell to just 4 percent in the current survey.

The survey was conducted from December 17 through January 5, mostly before the big stock market drops that have occurred since the year began, and 148 economists responded.

There were some positive signs in the results. In addition to the planned wage increases for the first quarter, nearly half of the economists said their firms had already raised pay in the final three months of 2015. That's the highest percentage in more than a decade.

And one-third of respondents said their firms planned to add jobs in the next three months, up from 29 percent in the fall. The number planning to cut jobs also rose, to 15 percent.

A solid majority, 62 percent, of the economists say that the Federal Reserve's interest rate increase announced December 1 will have no impact on their company.

Just 16 percent expect a negative effect and almost a quarter expect a positive one.