U.S. small business confidence at eight-year high; job openings rise

Tue Jan 13, 2015 12:52pm EST
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. small business optimism jumped in December to its highest level in more than eight years, the latest sign of strength in the economy even as dark clouds settle over global growth.

The outlook was further bolstered by other data on Tuesday showing job openings approached a 14-year high in November.

"There are concerns about global growth, but the fundamentals for the U.S. economy are very solid and what's going on overseas should only be a minor drag," said Gus Faucher, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

The National Federation of Independent Business said its Small Business Optimism Index increased 2.3 points to 100.4 last month, the highest reading since October 2006.

The index, which is back at its pre-recession average, was bolstered by a surge in sales expectations as well as hiring, capital outlays and business expansion plans.

The small business sector accounts for about half of the country's overall gross domestic product and makes up the largest share of hiring.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased 2.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted 4.97 million in November, the highest level since January 2001.

"It doesn't get any better than this for the economy. This is another sign that the labor market is tightening up and we are already starting to see more help wanted signs out there in store windows," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.   Continued...

A shopper carries her groceries to her car after shopping at a grocery store in San Diego, California September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake