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Surveys reflect that pulse of small business is hard to track

Published September 12, 2012 10:07 am

Economy • Conflicting data makes it hard to measure mood of key political target.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New York • Small-business owners are losing confidence as they see the economy weaken, according to a survey released Wednesday that is at odds with another just-released look at owners' sentiments.

The survey taken in July by the National Small Business Association found that 60 percent of owners are feeling confident about the future, down from 75 percent in December. The survey also found that 34 percent of owners expect a recession in the next 12 months, up from 14 percent in December. And the number of owners who expect the economy to grow or remain unchanged fell to 66 percent from 86 percent.

The survey gave a more negative reading of business owners' feelings about the economy than one taken in August and released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Business. That survey showed that small-business owners are getting more optimistic about how their companies and overall business conditions will do after the election and the first of the year.

Similarly, it has been difficult to get a sense of small businesses hiring. The payroll company ADP reported last Thursday that small businesses picked up their pace of hiring last month. The Labor Department's monthly jobs report showed hiring by all businesses slowed.

How small businesses are faring has become a major issue in the presidential election campaign. Small business was a theme of the Republican National Convention, and President Barack Obama has been speaking more frequently about his policies to help small businesses.

The NSBA survey found that the number of owners expecting their sales to increase fell — 56 percent expected higher sales in the December survey, but that number fell to 45 percent in the latest survey. The NFIB survey found owners slightly more optimistic — the number of those who expect higher sales rose 5 percentage points, to 1 percent, wiping out a negative reading in July.

The survey mirrored others that found small businesses have been reducing their debt loads. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they had debt, down from 78 percent two years ago and 80 percent five years ago. But the percentage of businesses able to obtain adequate financing fell to 66 percent in July from 70 percent six months earlier — a similar finding to other studies and surveys about small business borrowing.

The NSBA questioned 350 of its members for the survey.