Survey: Small biz owners growing more pessimistic

cash register AP

NEW YORK - Small business owners are growing more pessimistic.

A survey released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Business shows that owners became more pessimistic during September as employment and sales remained weak. The NFIB's index of owner optimism fell 0.1 point to 92.8.

"Small-business owners are reporting that the political climate is a reason not to expand -- second only to the economy, which is only keeping up with population growth," said NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg in a statement. "And so, in the meantime, owners are in maintenance mode, spending only where necessary and not hiring, expanding or ordering more inventories until the future becomes more 'certain.' "

The NFIB, a trade association that historically has aligned with political conservatives, questioned nearly 700 of its members as part of its survey.

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The survey did have some bright spots. The number of owners who believe this is a good time to expand their companies rose 3 percentage points. And the number of owners who expect business conditions to improve in six months gained 4 points.

But the number of owner who plan to create jobs fell 3 points, while the number who plan to reduce their payrolls rose 2 points. More than a fifth of the survey's participants said weak sales are their biggest business problem.

The survey is in line with other small business readings that show owners are cautious. The payroll service company ADP said last week that small businesses slowed their pace of hiring during September. There have been mixed readings on how much owners are willing to borrow, but the conflicting signals do point to small companies being very careful about spending for hiring or expansion.

One reason why the NFIB survey showed that more owners expect business to improve: The presidential election will be decided and Congress is likely to have taken action on tax bills. That would remove some of the uncertainty that has contributed to owners' pessimism the past few months.

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