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Small Business Optimism Index in U.S. Rises to a Five-Month High

Confidence among U.S. small businesses rose to a five-month high in October as more companies projected a pickup in sales, a survey found.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s optimism index increased 0.3 point last month to 93.1 from 92.8 in September. Four of the measure’s 10 components contributed to the advance, the Washington-based group said.

The gauge in October was down from the end of 2011, pointing to little progress among small-business owners. A record 23 percent said they were “uncertain” about economic conditions in the next six months as a lack of clarity surrounding tax and regulatory policies hampers hiring plans.

“Uncertainty about the election has been a major impediment to spending because the presidential candidates offered very disparate policies for the economy,” William Dunkelberg, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “If owners are unable to even predict the direction of the economy let alone the pace of growth, uncertainty will seriously impede spending and hiring.”

The index measuring respondents’ outlook for sales rose to a net 3 percent, up 2 points from the previous month. The proportion of small businesses planning to make capital investments in the next three to six months advanced by 1 point to 22 percent in October.

Four percent of small business owners said they planned to create new jobs, the same as in September. A net 16 percent said they had job openings that were hard to fill, down 1 point from the prior month. The jobless rate in the U.S. has remained near 8 percent since early 2009.

The 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.

Business Conditions

The gauge of expectations for improved business conditions six months from now held at 2 percent, while 7 percent, unchanged from September, said it was a good time to expand.

The NFIB report was based on a survey of 2,029 small-business owners through Oct. 30. 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 with no more than 500 employees.

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