Business confidence in Mass. reaches new low point

Jon Chesto

The meltdown in the stock and credit markets has caused confidence among Bay State employers to plunge to its lowest levels since the recession of the early 1990s.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts reported on Thursday that its Massachusetts Business Confidence Index fell this month to the lowest point in the index’s 17-year history.

The index dropped to 41.4 this month from 46.5 in September, falling below its previous low point of 41.5 that was set in December 1991 as the state was emerging from a previous recession.

Readings below 50 indicate that the general mood is more negative than positive about the economy. The index has been largely trending downward in the past year amid worsening economic conditions in the state and across the country.

“Basically, people are hunkering down,” said Brian Gilmore, AIM’s executive vice president of public affairs.

About 68 percent of respondents said they viewed national economic conditions as “bad,” compared with 58 percent who said they believed that to be the case about the state’s economic conditions.

“People think the state’s a little better off,” Gilmore said. “The question is, will it stay that way?”

Gilmore said he is hopeful the index will improve next month, partly because many companies are still finding they can get loans when they need them.

“A lot of businesses are not having a tough time getting credit as they feared,” Gilmore said. “(Major banks) might have tightened lending standards, but they have money to lend and they’re anxious to lend money.”

Consumers in Massachusetts also remained pessimistic in October, although their attitudes didn’t change much since July, according to a separate report from Boston research firm Mass Insight Corp.

Mass Insight’s Consumer Confidence Index stayed essentially flat, at 51, compared with 50 in July, even as national consumer confidence plunged over the same time. The state index – which is still at its second lowest point – is based on a phone poll of 500 consumers in the state.

The October polling showed that consumers’ outlook in the state has largely stabilized: About 41 percent of consumers said jobs are hard to get in the areas where they live, compared with 40 percent in July. About 31 percent said they expect conditions will get worse in six months, compared with 32 percent in July.

Jon Chesto may be reached at