Happy Days Aren't Here Again?

This economy just won't quit. Or will it? Looking to the fourth quarter, Dun & Bradstreet Corp.'s Optimism Index shows small-business owners turning a wee bit cautious. The index is the percent of those polled who expect increases (in sales, for instance) minus the percent expecting decreases. Whether compared with last year or last quarter, fewer small businesses expect to raise prices or see higher profits, and more expect a worsening labor squeeze and rising inventories. Other recent surveys from Coopers & Lybrand and Arthur Andersen/National Small Business United produced similar results. To be sure, optimism overall is still pretty high. This quarter may be an anomaly, reflecting a sense that the boom times are too good to last. But historically, says D&B, the index has been a good predictor of what later government stats say really happened.