U.S. Business Demand Rises For First Time In A Year - NABE

U.S. demand for goods and services has increased for the first time in a year, according to a National Association of Business economists survey released Monday.

The NABE survey of its 124 members was conducted from mid-December to mid-January and shows an increase in demand among businesses from the survey taken three months earlier.

"Price increases were more likely to stick than in recent quarters, although two-thirds of firms still kept prices unchanged," said Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America, who helped direct the NABE survey.

Compared to recent quarters, far fewer respondents than in previous quarters reported rising materials costs. Of those surveyed, 30% saw rising costs as opposed to the 43% reporting rises in the previous survey.

Employment growth changed little from the third to fourth quarter, with 29% of firms reporting rising employment and only 12% reporting a decline in employment. For the next six months, more firms said they expect to take on new workers than what was seen in the prior two quarters.

While nearly half of those surveyed said they expect to add more workers, goods-producing firms surveyed said they reduced their workforce in the fourth quarter and plan to do so again.

Capital spending rose at 32% of the respondents' firms, the survey showed. That was the smallest share in three years and was down from 41% in the prior quarterly survey.

Firms also are scaling back their capital spending plans for the coming year, with 43% expecting to increase spending over the next year, down from 56% in the October survey.

Nonetheless, profit margins continued a steady improvement during the fourth quarter of last year, with 31% of the respondents reporting rising profits and 15% reporting falling profits.

The outlook on the housing market improved, with a third of panelists expecting a substantial housing slowdown in the next six months. That was down from 53% a quarter earlier