The average prediction of representatives of the 207 firms questioned in the second week of December was a 1.9 percent inflation rate for the coming 12 months. That's a drop from their average of 2.1 percent in the prior month's survey. Their current outlook is roughly in line with what most private economists anticipate.
The executives also reported improvement in their companies' sales and profit margins, a rebound from what they were seeing earlier in the fall.
On average, their sales are still 7.7 percent below normal. Smaller firms are feeling it more than large ones. Companies with more than 500 employees show their sales are off just 5 percent while those with fewer than 100 workers are struggling with a sales gap more than twice as large.
While most of those surveyed said their crews were working the same number of hours or less than normal, more than one-third of them are working employees longer hours than usual. Typically in a recovery, increased hours is an early sign that companies will eventually have to add workers.