Small Business Optimism Index edges down

A monthly index tracking optimism among small business owners has edged down on less upbeat expectations for hiring and capital outlays.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index slipped a tenth of a point to 92.8 for September.

The index is based on the results of monthly surveys of members of the NFIB,  a small business advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Many small business owners remain in a wait-and-see mode pending the outcome of the presidential election, putting off hiring or expansion plans, said William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the NFIB. “Everyone is waiting to see what happens, especially small business owners who have a lot at stake in the outcome.”

“Small business owners are reporting the political climate is not a reason to expand — second only to the economy, which is only keeping up with population growth,” Dunkelberg added.

In the meantime, owners’ outlooks are mixed. For September, four of 10 components of the Small Business Optimism Index advanced,  four components retreated and two remained unchanged.

The proportion of small business owners responding to the survey upon which the September index was based who expect the economy to improve over the next six months rose four points to 2 percent. The share of owners who said they consider now a good time to expand rose three points to 7 percent.

However, the proportion of owners planning staffing increases fell six points to 4 percent. Meanwhile, 17 percent of owners reported hard-to-fill job openings, down a point.

The share of owners planning capital outlays over the next three to six months retreated three points to 21 percent.

The proportion of owners planning to increase inventories remained unchanged at a net negative 1 percent.

The share of owners who expect sales volume to increase in coming months also held steady at 1 percent. At the same time, 21 percent of owners cited poor sales as their most pressing business problem.

Reports of positive earnings trends edged up a point, but remained at a net negative 28 percent.