U.S. small business confidence slips in August

Small-business owners Ralph Gorham (2nd L) and Susan Povich (R) work with their employees to sell lobster rolls at their shop "Redhook Lobster Pound" in New York December 16, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. small business optimism dipped in August as owners worried about the economy's near-term outlook, but gains in sales expectations and hiring plans hinted at a pick-up in the pace of economic growth. The National Federation of Independent Business said on Tuesday its Small Business Optimism Index slipped 0.1 point to 94 last month. While details of the survey were fairly mixed, key indicators such as planned hiring, capital spending, inventory accumulation and sales all advanced in August, suggesting an improvement in sentiment in the months ahead. "Capital spending and inventory investment plans increased as well, all activities that would put some energy into GDP (gross domestic product) growth," the NFIB said in a statement. That would fit in with expectations of an acceleration in activity in the second half of the year, though growth slowed somewhat early in the third quarter. The economy grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the first half of the year. There was a big increase in job creation plans, which jumped to levels last seen in January 2007, a positive sign for the labor market amid signs of a slowing in job growth trend. However, the share of firms reporting they could not find suitable candidates to fill open positions fell. While owners were optimistic about sales, they were downbeat on earnings. Expectations for business conditions over the next six months fell again in August. There was also a decline in the share of owners saying this was a good time to expand. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Krista Hughes)