According to a Leger survey on Canadian economic confidence released on Wednesday, Manitobans remain true to form in terms of our modest expectations for the future and our relative contentment with how things are today.
In general, Manitoba was pretty closely synched with national sentiments that show more optimism this year compared to last year but still not at pre-pandemic levels.
But the Manitoba results — Leger has been producing this kind of survey nationally for a few years and for the first time hived off results from Manitoba (as well as B.C. and Alberta) — veer off slightly when it comes to predicted household income trends. Manitobans are seven per cent less optimistic than the national average and are more worried than the national average regarding six different areas of personal finance issues.
Andrew Enns, the Winnipeg-based executive vice-president of Leger, points out that in most respects Manitoba follows the national trends, but tend to be less than exuberantly bullish about economic expectations when it comes to personal finance issues.
"The one area that I saw Manitoba a little more starkly out of step is on the predicted household income trends," he said.
When asked, "In 2022, do you expect your total household income to go up, down or stay about the same compared to 2021?" 32 per cent of respondents nationally said they expect it to be up a little or a lot, but only 25 per cent felt that way in Manitoba.
That manifests itself in terms of a slightly higher degree of concern when asked how often folks worry about personal finance issues like the value of investments, security of savings, paying the bills.
A slightly higher percentage of Manitobans say they worry about these things versus the national average.
"It makes sense," Enns said. "It’s hard to put your finger on why that is the case in Manitoba but I think part of it is that people think, ‘If it happens at the end of the year that I’m doing better then good for me. I’ll be happy to be surprised but I am not going to bank on it’."
Enns believes that mindset is at least partially due to the fact that Manitobans’ are used to a fairly stable economic history.
"Unlike some other parts of the country where they have a bit more of a boom/bust cycle Manitobans tend not to experience that and it translates to our expectations that things will never be so terribly bad… but also things will never be terribly good," Enns said.
According to Leger’s tracking, confidence in the national economy has improved from February 2021 – from 32 per cent feeling good or very good about the economy to 39 per cent in January — but remains softer than pre-pandemic when it was as 57 per cent.
Chuck Davidson, the president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the lagging optimism in Manitoba shown in the survey is in some contrast to a survey of business people the chamber did just before Christmas prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant.
"In comparison with the survey we did specifically with regards to optimism, the general public is a lot more pessimistic than the business community is," Davidson said. "When we asked the question in our survey in the fall regarding optimism, almost 90 per cent of businesses were optimistic about the future."
Davidson said the fact that the public has more concerns about their personal finances will mean a drag on consumer confidence.
"If you have public concerns about savings and investment and 55 per cent are concerned about their ability to pay their bills that does not bode well for the business community when you have a public that’s nervous about their own personal finances," he said.
Davidson also makes the point that sentiments regarding economic confidence will vary depending on the economic sector the respondent is engaged in.
"When you talk to people most will tell me it is either the worst year for their business or it was the best," he said. "If you are in certain sector like hospitality or retail or others that have been really getting hammered for two years, absolutely I get you would be nervous because those business simply don’t have the ability to make investments."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.