Small-business optimism rebounds as winter ends, survey finds


WASHINGTON -- Small-business owners were more optimistic about the economy last month and expected sales to increase as a winter marked by severe weather ended, according to survey results released Tuesday.

The confidence index from the National Federation of Independent Business rose to 93.4 in March, from 91.4 the previous month. The measure is one of the few monthly barometers of the small-business sector, which is a key driver of the economy.

Last month’s increase nearly reversed a drop in February, but the index, which can range from 80 to 110, remains historically low as the economic recovery struggles to gain traction.


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“While the index still can’t seem to get above 95, we can be encouraged that the economy is at least crawling forward and not heading in reverse,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the trade group.

Although owners of small and independent businesses remained negative about future economic conditions, their expectations concerning sales showed a strong improvement last month.

About 12% of the those surveyed said they expected higher sales volumes during the next three months, up 9 percentage points from the February survey.

Hiring also improved last month. Small-business owners reported increasing their payrolls by an average of 0.18 workers in March, up from 0.11 the previous month.

It was the sixth straight month the survey showed an increase in hiring.

Some of the best job-producing areas last month -- the Southwest, West and Florida -- were largely unaffected by the bitter cold and snow that plagued much of the nation, the report said.