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Confidence at U.S. Small Companies Little Changed in January

Confidence among U.S. small businesses was little changed in January, held back by concern over profits and inventories, a survey found.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s index was 93.9, compared with 93.8 the previous month, the Washington-based group said today in a statement. The gauge averaged 100.6 in the five years before the recession began in December 2007.

Company chiefs were more pessimistic last month about the outlook for profits and stockpiles, and fewer looked to increase staff. Nonetheless, a growing number of small companies believed the economy and sales will improve over the next six months.

“The economy will continue to crawl along,” William Dunkelberg, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “‘Muddle through’ seems to best characterize the first half of the year.”

The index was at the highest level since February 2011.

The gauge of expectations for improved business conditions six months from now increased five points to a net minus 3 percent, also the highest since February of last year. The share of owners projecting higher sales, adjusted for inflation, rose one point to 10 percent.

The net share of small-business owners planning to hire over the next three months dropped a point to 5 percent, the report showed. The proportion of those saying they will increase stockpiles dropped five points to minus 3 percent, and a net minus 24 percent said earnings trends were positive, down two points.

Capital Spending

For a third month, about 24 percent of businesses said they planned to spend on new equipment and facilities in the next three to six months, according to the report.

The NFIB survey’s net figures are calculated by subtracting the percent of business owners giving a negative answer from those with a positive response and adjusting the results for seasonal variations.

The NFIB report was based on responses from 2,155 small-business owners through Jan. 31. Small companies represent more than 99 percent of all U.S. employers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. A small business is defined as an independent enterprise employing as many as 500 people.

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