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Small business optimism rises from a 9-month low

Confidence among small businesses in the U.S. climbed in August for the first time in four months as more companies anticipated a pickup in hiring and sales.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s optimism index rose to 92.9 from a nine-month low of 91.2 in July. Five of the index’s 10 components contributed to the August gain, the Washington-based group said Tuesday.

Labor-market sentiment improved to the highest level since 2008, with a net 10 percent of employers saying they planned to add workers. The results suggest businesses activity is holding up even as the global economy slows and the presidential election clouds the outlook for tax and regulatory policy in the U.S.

“The labor market readings were very solid,” William Dunkelberg, the group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Expectations for business conditions in early 2013 improved substantially, perhaps a forecast of the election outcome and the chance for a favorable resolution of our fiscal dilemma.”

A measure of whether business owners expect improved sales increased by 5 points to a net 1 percent this month. A net minus 2 percent, up 6 points, said they expect better business conditions in the next six months. Four percent said it was a good time to expand, down 1 point from July.

The share of owners last month who said they would invest in new equipment rose by 3 points to 24 percent, according to the report. At the same time, the share reporting positive earnings slid 1 point to a net minus 28 percent, the weakest since November.

The percent of respondents who said it was hard to fill a job opening climbed to 18 percent after a reading of 15 percent in the prior month. A Labor Department report showed last week that payrolls rose less than projected in August, and the unemployment rate dropped as Americans left the labor force.

The NFIB survey’s net figures are calculated by subtracting the percent of business owners giving a negative answer from those providing a positive response and adjusting the results for seasonal variations.

The NFIB report was based on a survey of 736 small-business owners through Aug. 31. Small companies represent more than 99 percent of all U.S. employers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. A small business is defined as an independent enterprise with no more than 500 employees.

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