If the signs from the small business community are accurate, the U.S. economy could be softening.
After six months of increases, the Small-Business Optimism Index conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business fell 2 points to 92.5. Nine of the 10 components included in the index fell, with owners reporting a net 0% reading for planned job creation and a slight dip to 22% who say they plan to make capital outlays in the next three to six months.
Calling the mood of small business owners "subdued," NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said the March reading is "painfully familiar - this was the same pattern of growth followed by months of decline from 2011. History appears to be repeating itself-and not in a good way."
Rising gas prices were a likely factor in the decline in business confidence in March, said James Marple, TD Economics senior economist. "Fortunately, there appears to be some good news on this front as oil prices have moved down in recent weeks."
Marple called the decline in the percent of businesses planning to hire "disappointing." He noted, "Hiring rates remain well below levels seen before the recession and must increase if the job market is to continue to improve."