Small business optimism up, but concerns about healthcare and taxes persist

Small business owners were more optimistic about the economic environment than they were in November, according to a new survey — though healthcare costs and small business taxes were still major concerns.

The quarterly Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, which attempts to quantify optimism based on owners’ responses about their business’ present and future performance, increased to 9 in January, up 20 points from -11 in November following the election. The index ranges from -400 to 400 — a score of zero reflects neither optimism nor pessimism. Pre-recession scores were at or around 100.

A recent report by the National Federation of Independent Business owners also found an increase in small business optimism since November.

Fifty-four percent of small business owners said healthcare costs were a concern, and 53 percent said the same of small business taxes, the Wells Fargo/Gallup survey found. Other choices for issues included the price of energy, government regulations and the federal debt ceiling, but fewer business owners reported these as concerns.

Seventy-one percent of business owners expected the number of jobs at their company to stay the same over the next year, and 17 percent — unchanged since November — planned to add jobs in the next year.

The survey also asked small business owners that were not hiring why they weren’t doing so; 81 percent said they didn’t need additional help, 74 percent said they were worried about revenue and sales, and 66 percent reported being worried about the U.S. economy. Sixty-one percent of owners who weren’t hiring cited the potential cost of healthcare as a barrier.

January’s optimism score reflects the “volatility of business owner sentiment today,” Doug Case, Small Business Segment Manager for Wells Fargo, said in a statement.

“Business owners are feeling a bit more positive at the beginning of the year, but they also express concern about the operating environment that could impact future business decisions, such as hiring new employees.”

The survey was based on telephone interviews with 601 small business owners across the country, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

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