Small-business optimism plummets

“Between the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’ the promise of higher health-care costs and the endless onslaught of new regulations, owners have found themselves in a state of pessimism,” Dunkelberg said in a statement. “We are forced to ask: is this the new normal?”

NFIB’s policy priorities are often aligned with Republicans — the group, for instance, was a plaintiff in the legal challenge to the Democratic healthcare overhaul. 

But the small-business index’s findings are consistent with other surveys that have found growing pessimism ahead of the fiscal cliff, set to hit in January unless Congress acts.

Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan announced recently that its preliminary consumer confidence index dropped for December, and other sectors — like manufacturing — have also seen a decline in optimism. 

President Obama and congressional Republicans still face hurdles in a fiscal-cliff deal, including on whether tax rates on family incomes north of $250,000 a year should rise.

The NFIB said that it removed states affected by Sandy from this month’s index to ensure accuracy. 

According to the index, owner confidence that business conditions would improve over the next half a year dropped 37 points, to -35 percent. Almost half of owners believe conditions will go south over the next six months, NFIB says.

The index also found that Hurricane Sandy caused significant reductions in hiring in states hit by the storm. The Labor Department’s most recent jobs report found the storm didn’t have a significant impact on job creation.