Small-business optimism edges higher, survey finds

NEW YORK (AP) — Small-business owners were slightly more optimistic during July as they became more confident about their sales in the coming months, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The National Federation of Independent Business said its index of small business optimism rose 0.6 to 94.1 from May's 93.5. The index has fluctuated in a narrow range in recent months, and is half a point below its level of December 2007, when the recession began.

The survey is in line with others that have shown gradually increasing confidence among small business owners. Last week, the National Small Business Association reported that a growing number of owners it surveyed believe the economy is better now than it was six months ago.

However, small-business owners are generally still very cautious. While the number of owners in the NFIB survey expecting stronger sales rose, the gain was just 2 percentage points to 7 percent. And the number of owners saying this is a good time to expand rose 2 percent, but the total number expressing that belief was just 9 percent.

The NFIB reported earlier this month that owners cut their payrolls by an average 0.11 workers last month, a sign that they are still holding off hiring. But it also reported that 20 percent of the survey participants had an opening they could not fill, which is a sign that the employment rate could continue to fall, because there are jobs available. The unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent in July.

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