US firms cite COVID-19, worker shortages as main risks: Survey

WASHINGTON (AFP) – American companies ended the year on a strong note but are worried about resurging COVID-19 infections, although supply issues are expected to ease, according to a survey released yesterday.

Just over one third of company economists cited spiking Covid-19 cases as the biggest downside risk to the outlook, ahead of rising prices, the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) said in its quarterly Business Conditions Survey.

Inflation has become a growing concern for United States (US) consumers and businesses throughout 2021, fuelled in part by global shortages and transportation snags.

NABE said about two-thirds of firms reported rising sales in the final quarter of 2021, in line with the last three surveys, and among the highest in the survey’s 40-year history.

And nearly two-thirds of respondents said sales at their firms returned to pre-crisis volumes.

“The positive results and outlook come despite clearly visible shortages, particularly labour shortages,” survey chair Jan Hogrefe said.

NABE found 57 per cent of respondents faced skilled labour shortages – 10 points more than the October survey – while nearly one-quarter struggled to find unskilled labour, compared to just 11 per cent previously. “Both shortages have grown steadily more widespread over the past year,” said Hogrefe, who is also the chief economist of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Almost a third of respondents expect labour shortages to continue into 2023 or later.

In contrast, only 11 per cent of firms saw supply chain problems persisting next year, while a similar share viewed those issues as their main downside risk. Opinions varied over when the problems would end.