WASHINGTON, April 13 U.S. small business owners
have little confidence in the economy and are in no rush to
hire or expand, despite signs the recovery is picking up, a
survey released on Tuesday showed.
The persistent pessimism poses a challenge for President
Barack Obama who has proposed a series of policies aimed at
enticing small firms to add jobs. Such policies are critical in
a congressional election year when voters are upset about high
The National Federation of Independent Business said its
monthly index of small business optimism fell 1.2 points in
March to 86.8 and below 90 for the 18th consecutive month.
"The March reading is very low and headed in the wrong
direction," said Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB's chief economist.
"Something isn't sitting well with small business owners. Poor
sales and uncertainty continue to overwhelm any other good news
about the economy."
Small businesses normally account for the bulk of new jobs,
making them an important part of the recovery. Obama has
proposed tax breaks to encourage hiring and special lending
programs to try to boost hiring.
The economy registered two consecutive quarters of economic
growth to the end of 2009. It probably continued expanding in
the first three months of 2010. But small business confidence
remains abnormally low. Dunkelberg blames that in part on
uncertainty about Washington's policies, particularly those
related to taxes and health care.
"There is no legislation that has passed or that is
promised that is encouraging to small business owners and the
news about the fiscal crisis and the need for more taxes is
hardly encouraging," the trade group said.
The jobless rate held at 9.7 percent in March, the third
straight month, as the labor market continues to lag the
economic recovery from the worst downturn since the 1930s.
"What small businesses need most are increased sales,
giving them a reason to hire and make capital expenditures and
borrow to support those activities," said Dunkelberg.
While the survey suggested small firms were done cutting
jobs, plans to create new ones remain weak. In March, more
firms were planning to reduce headcount than add to it.
Only nine percent of firms reported unfilled job openings
on a seasonally adjusted basis, down two points from February
and historically low. That showed little hope for a lower
unemployment rate, the group said.
Small business owners continued to liquidate inventories
and weak sales trends gave little reason to order new stock,
the survey showed.
Historically weak plans to make capital expenditures to add
to inventory and expand operations also make it clear many
borrowers are simply on the sidelines, NFIB said.
(Reporting by Nancy Waitz and Emily Kaiser; Editing by Andrew
Hay) ((email@example.com; +1-202-898-8395; Reuters