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US small-business optimism falls more than expected in December 2019

Optimism in the U.S. small-business sector declined more than expected in December 2019 but remained historically strong, as seven of the 10 survey indicators reported by the National Federation of Independent Business deteriorated month over month.

The National Federation of Independent Business' or NFIB's, small-business optimism index dropped to 102.7 in December 2019 from 104.7 registered in the prior month, when the index logged its sharpest increase since May 2018. The consensus estimate of economists polled by Econoday was for a reading of 104.4 in December 2019.

"December marked the end of another banner year for the small business economy, as owners took full advantage of strong consumer spending, and federal tax and regulatory relief," said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg.

The percentages of small-business owners who are expecting better business conditions or higher real sales volumes both increased by 3 points to a net 16%. Meanwhile, a seasonally adjusted net 9% of owners said they registered higher nominal sales in the past three months, surpassing the average reading for 2019 by 3 points.

A seasonally adjusted net 24% of small-business owners plan to raise compensation in the next few months, a decline of 2 points from November 2019. A seasonally adjusted net 19% intend to create new jobs, also down 2 points from the prior month.

"What really matters to small-business owners are issues directly impacting their bottom lines," Dunkelberg said. "Currently, their biggest problem is finding qualified labor, surpassing taxes or regulations."

The number of owners who raised average selling prices was up 2 points to a net 14%, marking another consecutive monthly increase since September 2019.

The NFIB said its uncertainty index rose to a reading of 80 from 72 in November 2019 despite the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump having "little, if any" effect on small-business owners.