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Small firms bearish here

Manitoba small-business owners are among the most pessimistic in the country, the results of the latest monthly membership survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) state.

The federation said Thursday Manitoba's Business Barometer Index, which shows the level of optimism among small-business owners, dropped another 3.9 points this month to 58.7.

It said the index has now fallen 8.9 points in the past three months, making Manitoba entrepreneurs the third most pessimistic in the country after those in New Brunswick (56.6) and Nova Scotia (57.6). Canada's index increased by 0.4 points in February to 64.4.

Elliot Sims, the CFIB's director of provincial affairs for Manitoba, said the low confidence level here is tied to ongoing concerns about the competitiveness of Manitoba's business climate.

"Entrepreneurs are gun-shy when it comes to Manitoba's provincial budget and for good reason. Over the last few years, the budget has increased taxes, made the red-tape headache worse and continued creating large deficits," Sims said.

"We believe Finance Minister (Jennifer) Howard has a chance to change that next week and I hope she uses the opportunity," he added.

Earlier this month, CFIB Manitoba presented Howard with a list of measures it would like to see included in the upcoming provincial budget, which will be unveiled next Thursday.

They include: a commitment to balance the provincial budget by 2016 without raising taxes, limiting government-spending growth to one per cent, increasing the personal income tax exemption for 2015 and indexing tax brackets to inflation and introducing a Manitoba taxpayer fairness and service code to improve customer service accountability and reduce the red-tape burden.

"Overall, these are all small steps they could take," Sims added.


Earnings up in province

Average weekly earnings climbed a little higher in Manitoba during the final month of 2013, new Statistics Canada data state.

The agency said Thursday weekly earnings increased by 1.4 per cent, or $11.66, to $863.93. That gave Manitoba the sixth-highest weekly earnings rate among the provinces, ahead of Quebec and the three Atlantic provinces.

December's average earnings were also 2.7 per cent higher than a year earlier, when they sat at $841.29 per week.

Statistics Canada also released the payroll-employee numbers for December. They showed a 0.5 per cent decline in the number of employees from November to December -- 581,200 compared with 583,900.

That was the second-biggest percentage decline among the seven provinces that saw a reduction in payroll employees, which are people who work for someone as opposed to being self-employed.

But despite the month-to-month decline, December's total was still 1.4 per cent higher than in December 2012, when there were 573,300 payroll employees working in the province.

Nationally, weekly earnings in Canada rose by 0.9 per cent from November to December -- $933.36 versus $924.59 -- and were up 2.9 per cent from a year earlier.

The number of payroll employees dipped by 0.1 per cent from November to December. But the December total of 15.5 million was still one percentage point higher than in December 2012.


Chill in capital spending

Manitoba companies and governments plan to ease up on their capital spending this year, a new survey by Statistics Canada says.

The agency said private and public organizations intend to invest just under $12.4 billion this year on residential and non-residential construction projects and on purchases of machinery and equipment.

That would be a decline of 1.5 per cent from 2013's preliminary total of $12.6 billion, which had been a 5.8 per cent improvement over 2012's $11.9 billion.

All of the cutbacks are expected to be on the construction side, where investment is expected to decline by 3.6 per cent to $8.2 billion from $8.5 billion in 2013.

Spending on machinery and equipment, on the other hand, is expected to rise by three per cent to $4.2 billion from just under $4.1 billion, the agency added.


-- staff

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2014 B6

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