NEW YORK - Rising just one tenth of one percent in January, the Small-Business Optimism Index settled at 93.9, a slight increase from the December 2011 reading, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

While the increase marks five consecutive months of improvement, the readings from January and February 2011 were higher, indicated no net gain for the calendar year. Historically, optimism remains at recession levels. While owners appeared less pessimistic about the outlook for business conditions and real sales growth, that optimism did not materialize in hiring or increased inventories plans.

"The most positive statement that can be made about January's reading is that the Index did not go down; a change of 0.1 points is essentially no change and it is hardly indicative of a surge in economic activity," said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. "Nothing happened last month that would significantly improve the small-business outlook; Washington is at a stalemate. The Index remains below its level a year ago of 94.1 which means that no progress was made in 2011. Congress has failed to pass a budget for over 1,000 days, and without discipline on spending or any budgetary priorities, there is no path to fiscal sanity in Washington. U.S. debt is now larger than our GDP, and headed in the wrong direction. This does not make for a comforting future, a fact reflected by low consumer and small-business owner optimism."

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