Updated: February 12, 2013 9:42AM
NEW YORK — Small business owners have started 2013 with low expectations for the economy and their companies.
That’s the finding of a survey released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Business.
The lobbying group’s Small Business Optimism Index rose 0.9 points to 88.9 in January, but remains at a level that points to continuing pessimism among business owners. The survey questioned more than 2,000 NFIB members.
The NFIB’s chief economist, William Dunkelberg, noted that the survey was taken after the government reported in late December that the economy contracted during the fourth quarter. Uncertainty about the economy has kept many small business owners from hiring, borrowing and expanding over the past year.
Owners are worried about their companies. Nineteen percent of the survey participants said weak sales are their biggest problem. One-quarter said they expect their sales to improve over the next three months, but nearly a third expect them to fall.
The NFIB’s findings were in line with a survey released last week by the National Small Business Association, another lobbying group. It found that its members’ confidence had fallen sharply at the end of 2012 from a year earlier. More than two-thirds of the participants in that survey said the economy is the biggest challenge to the growth and survival of their companies.
The NFIB survey shows that owners did not get a confidence boost from the resolution in late December of the impasse in Congress over taxes and budget cuts, the so-called fiscal cliff. One reason: Lawmakers put off until March decisions on cutting the budget, and many small businesses that have federal contracts could still lose some of that business.
Health care remains another obstacle to small business growth. Many owners are unwilling to make new hires or expand until they know what their costs under the national health care overhaul will be. The law won’t be fully implemented until Jan. 1, 2014.