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Small Business Pessimism Grows In September: NFIB

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In a photo from Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, Andy Schepper, vice president of Summit Sports in Keego Harbor, Mich., stands next to kayaks his company sells. With plants shriveling up and outdoorsy types feeling it’s too hot to be active in the extreme summer heat, many small business owners with seasonal businesses aren’t ringing up a lot of sales. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) | AP

NEW YORK — Small business owners may be pessimistic about the economy and their own companies right now, but they're getting optimistic about the future.

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 lobbying group's index of owner optimism fell 0.1 point to 92.8.

However, the survey found that 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. The NFIB questioned nearly 700 of its members as part of its survey.

A separate survey of small business owners found that 68 percent of the participants expect their companies to do well in the next couple of years. Nearly half said their business is doing well now, and 40 percent said their business is doing "just OK." The online survey, which questioned 470 owners with 10 employees or less during August, was commissioned by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the National Association for the Self-Employed and the Small Business Majority, all groups that represent small business owners.

Many readings on small business optimism, hiring and lending have had differing results. One reason is that the surveys and studies – including both surveys released Tuesday – use different sources for the data they base their findings on.

For example, the NFIB survey, which also showed a fourth straight monthly drop in hiring at small companies during September, was odds with a report last week from the payroll service company ADP. That report said small businesses were hiring in September, but at a slower pace than in August.

There have also 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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