The National Federation of Independent Business says owners it surveyed last month expect their companies' sales and overall business conditions to pick up after the election and the end of the year.
That brighter outlook helped lift the NFIB's small business optimism index by 1.7 points in August to 92.9. The NFIB, which lobbies on behalf of small business owners, compiled the index from its survey of 736 of its members.
Many business owners have refrained from hiring or expanding their companies not only because of the economy, but also because of the uncertainty over the presidential election.
The survey still shows that business owners have a generally dim view of the current economy, said William Dunkelberg, the NFIB's chief economist. "There is too much uncertainty to make major financial commitments," he said. Dunkelberg called the August index "another solid recession reading."
Still, "it could be they're starting to see things at street level that we don't see in the (economic) numbers" that come out each month, Dunkelberg said. He noted that car and truck sales have been strong, there have been some signs of recovery in the housing market and the energy industry in the Midwest is doing well.
"These are thing that are happening that are making some owners more optimistic," he said.
David Audretsch, an economics professor at Indiana University's Institute for Development Strategies, said that while the economy is recovering more slowly than after past recessions, small business owners aren't paying attention to economic numbers such as the government's monthly jobs report. Instead, they're focused on what's going on in their own environment.
"I think they're feeling that things are getting better," he said. "Small business tends to be a leading indicator of the business cycle."
The number of owners who said they expect to create new jobs rose 5 percentage points from July to 10 percent. While the reading is low, the increase was significant.
The number of owners expecting their sales to improve also rose 5 percentage points to 1 percent, erasing a negative reading in July but still weak. The number of owners who expect business conditions to improve in six months rose 6 percentage points, although that reading remained negative at 2 percent.
Nearly a quarter of the owners, 24 percent, said they plan to make capital expenditures in the next three to six months, up 3 percentage points. Capital expenditures include purchases such as vehicles, equipment and real estate and also include improving or expanding buildings and facilities.
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