Equipment Finance Industry Confidence Steady in December

The Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation released the December 2023 Monthly Confidence Index for the Equipment Finance Industry (MCI-EFI). The index reports a qualitative assessment of both the prevailing business conditions and expectations for the future as reported by key executives from the $1 trillion equipment finance sector. Overall, confidence in the equipment finance market is 42.5, steady with the November index of 42.8.

“In the most recent survey, most opined that the markets would remain steady through early 2024 with very few signs anticipating dramatic changes in the next several months,” Dave B. Fate, CEO of Stonebriar Commercial Finance, said. “Subsequent economic reports over the past two weeks, including the Fed’s announcement that further rate hikes are no longer forecasted, with various institutions predicting multiple rate cuts throughout 2024 – the first of which some predict as early as March – have caused major positive shifts in sentiment in the bond and equity markets the past two weeks. Equity markets have rallied to all-time highs, mortgage rates dropped below 7%, and overall market sentiment has improved significantly, which I expect will continue in the coming months.”

When asked to assess their business conditions over the next four months, 3.7% of the executives said they believe business conditions will improve over the next four months, an increase from none in November, while 66.7% believe business conditions will remain the same over the next four months, down from 74.1% in November and 29.6% believe business conditions will worsen, an increase from 25.9% in November.

“Repeat business from existing customers remains strong,” Charles Jones, senior vice president of 1st Equipment Finance (FNCB Bank), said. “While other lenders have pulled back for various reasons, our program has remained consistent without major changes to credit requirements. However, we are seeing some of the fallout from increased equipment values that were a result of low inventory in 2020-2021.”

According to the report, 3.7% of the survey respondents believe demand for leases and loans to fund capital expenditures will increase over the next four months, up from none in November. Meanwhile, 74.1% believe demand will “remain the same” during the same four-month time period, unchanged from November and 22.2% believe demand will decline, a decrease from 25.9% in November.

“Looking out to 2024, we expect sales of equipment and transportation to be softer,” James D. Jenks, CEO of Global Finance and Leasing Services, said.

Only 3.7% of the respondents expect more access to capital to fund equipment acquisitions over the next four months, down from 11.1% in November. Most (74.1%) executives indicated they expect the “same” access to capital to fund business, unchanged from last month, while 22.2% expect “less” access to capital, up from 14.8% in November.

When asked, 18.5% of the executives reported that they expect to hire more employees over the next four months, an increase from 14.8% in November, while 63% expect no change in headcount over the next four months, down from 77.8% last month. In addition, 18.5% expect to hire fewer employees, up from 7.4% in November.

None of the leadership evaluated the current U.S. economy as “excellent,” a decrease from 3.7% last month. Meanwhile, 85.2% of the leadership evaluated the current U.S. economy as “fair,” up from 81.5% in November, while 14.8% evaluated it as “poor,” unchanged from last month.

In December, 3.7% of the survey respondents said they believe that U.S. economic conditions will get “better” over the next six months, unchanged from November, while 66.7% indicated they believe the U.S. economy will “stay the same” over the next six months, an increase from 44.4% last month. Additionally, 29.6% believe economic conditions in the U.S. will worsen over the next six months, a decrease from 51.9% in November.

Lastly, 14.8% of respondents indicated they believe their company will increase spending on business development activities during the next six months, unchanged from last month while 66.7% believe there will be “no change” in business development spending, down from 70.4% in November. In addition, 18.5% believe there will be a decrease in spending, an increase from 14.8% last month.

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