Small-business optimism hits nearly six-year high

Dunkelberg said the level is still well below the average reading of 100 in the prior 35 years and still half a point below that December 2007 reading.

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The two labor market indicators improved and are beginning to push into "normal" territory, although they remained weak, the survey showed. 

Owners have stopped reducing employment, but they have not resumed hiring. The average increase in employment came in at a negative 0.11 workers per firm, the third negative monthly reading in a row. 

All told, 20 percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period (up 1 point), a potentially good sign for the falling unemployment rate, while 15 percent reported using temporary workers, up 3 points from June. 

But uncertainty remains among employers, with only 9 percent of respondents saying that now is a good time to expand their businesses.

Owners expecting better business conditions in six months was a net negative 6 percent, 2 points below June’s reading.

Those reporting higher nominal sales in the past three months compared to the prior three months improved a point, rising to a negative 7 percent.