By Brecken Branstrator

San Francisco--Small business owners are the most optimistic they’ve been since the recession started, according to a recent study from Wells Fargo and Gallup.

In the quarterly Small Business Index survey, Wells Fargo and Gallup question small business owners across the nation in order to gauge their perceptions of their present situation and future expectations for the next 12 months in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring and credit availability. The answers then are used to calculate the overall index score.

Wells Fargo and Gallup conducted the most recent survey from Nov. 11 to 17, finding that the overall index had increased to 80 in November. This is a 12-point increase compared with July and a 26-point increased compared with a year ago, and marks the highest optimism reading since January 2008.

It also represents the largest quarterly increase in the index in a year.

Wells Fargo said a major driver behind the optimism is how business owners feel about the year ahead; 45 percent indicated that they expect the operating environment to be better for business in 2017.

Many of the small business owners surveyed also said they expect their finances to improve next year.

Other key findings from the study are as follows.
• More than half (58 percent) expect revenue to increase a little or a lot in the next 12 months, up from the 48 percent who said the same thing in July.
• Meanwhile, 70 percent believe their cash flow will be somewhat or very good in the next 12 months. This is up from 65 percent in July.
• More than one-third (35 percent) said they plan to increase capital spending a lot or a little.
• Thirty-six percent expect the number of jobs at their company to increase a little or a lot over the next year. Wells Fargo said this is the highest reading for this factor in the 13-year history of the survey.

In the survey, small business owners also were asked about their priorities for President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Congress.

Eighty-one percent of small business owners said they wanted them to focus on changes to the tax code, tax regulation and tax rates for small businesses. Other top issues include actions relating to healthcare and the current healthcare law (76 percent), overall action on government regulations impacting small business owners (70 percent), and actions that could impact oil prices or energy costs (59 percent).

When asked what the new administration could do to help small businesses grow, 90 percent said improving the economy overall was at the top, followed by reducing taxes on small businesses (81 percent) and simplifying the tax code as it pertains to small businesses (78 percent).

Slightly more than half (51 percent) of small business owners think that the new president and Congress will take actions next year to make their businesses better off, while 17 percent think their businesses will be worse off and 26 percent think their actions will have no effect.

These results are similar to what National Jeweler/Jewelers of America found in its latest Business Pulse survey, which focused on the election.

Consumer confidence
In addition to the surge in optimism among small business owners, the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment also showed that consumer confidence has skyrocketed following the election.

In early December, consumer confidence climbed to 98 on the index, just one-tenth of a point below the 2015 peak, which was the highest level since the start of 2004. The university said this was largely due to consumers’ initial reactions to Trump’s victory.

The university also said in its results that when asked what news they had heard of recent economic developments, “more consumers spontaneously mentioned the expected positive impact of new economic policies than ever before recorded in the long history of the surveys.”

Though just as many offered negative opinions about prospective economic policies, the frequency of those negative references was less than half their prior peak levels, whereas positive references were about twice their prior peak.

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