Profit Minded

November’s slight growth in small-business activity

several 100-dollar billsmoneyDespite the economic tremors coming out of Europe and the stock market whiplash of November, a few reports this week may ease some of the tension small-business owners, in particular, are feeling in this economy.

The hiring outlook trends upward

The overall jobless rate dipped to 8.6%, and total nonfarm employment rose by 120,000 jobs last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Modest job gains in temporary help continued during the month, which suggests more employers are testing the waters for adding workers.

Small businesses created 110,000 jobs in November, according the ADP National Employment Report released on Wednesday. Or, if you think that's too good to be true, the payroll processing company Intuit reported that small businesses in the U.S. created 55,000 jobs in November.

Small  business lending surges; optimism stays flat

A monthly index that measures small-business borrowing rose 20% in October. The index, released this week by Thomson Reuters/PayNet, registered a double-digit increase for the 15th month.

The upward trend suggests that small businesses are borrowing funds to invest in growth, perhaps in equipment or labor. However, PayNet founder Bill Phelan noted that the October data preceded the economic woes caused by the European debt crisis in November.

The contrarian for the month: The SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard for November showed a slight decrease in hiring, and small-business owners' optimism remained flat at 53% during the month.

"Small business owners' optimism is holding steady, despite frustrating externals twists and turns such as a recurring market rollercoaster and government inaction," said SurePayroll President Michael Alter. "If small business owners stay the course and optimism continues to rise, expect about a 60 to 90-day window before optimism has the potential to turn into action in the form of hiring decisions or investing in growth."

Don't forget the holiday afterglow

While the reports cited above paint a composite small-business picture that's clear as mud, none of them say much about the buying binge we saw in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

As I reported earlier this week, the tallies from post-Thanksgiving sprees surged well ahead of last year's activity, and the benefits reach beyond big-store retailers. The big weekend also included Small Business Saturday, which boosted sales for many merchants and service businesses.

I would expect those increases to give a nice running start for December, and maybe prompt some revisions upward for  November results. Or maybe I just don't want rain on what looks to be a welcome holiday parade.

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