Data File: Small Business Owners Remain Upbeat

Small business owners expect their sales and profits to be the same or better over the next six months, according to an economic outlook survey released today by PNC Bank.

In a survey of 1,344 small and mid-sized business owners around the nation, most also said the credit squeeze and housing downturn hasn't affected their ability to obtain loans.

"Small business owners are not yet ringing the recession bell," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group. "Based on our survey, we expect the U.S. economy to remain on a path of slow but sustained growth."

Hoffman and other local banking and business leaders presented the survey's findings at a breakfast meeting this morning at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

Nine out of 10 business owners said credit is available or easier to get than three months ago. Only about one in four businesses said they expected lower housing prices would impact their sales and profits. About nine in 10 businesses said they expect sales to be the same or better in the next six months -- a portion unchanged from a similar survey last spring.

Hoffman said his forecasts show the housing market would continue to soften around the nation through next spring or summer. Hoffman also warned that higher gas prices are the biggest risk facing small business owners faced with loftier costs to run their businesses.

"Don't believe for a minute that home prices, sales and construction have hit bottom. But I don't believe housing will drag the economy into a recession," he said.

Locally, Kenneth Cook, the chief executive of PNC's regional Washington area operations, said businesses are optimist about the next six months with nine of 10 small to mid-sized companies expected sales to be the same or increase, according local survey respondents.

But Cook said fewer companies expect to expand their workforces from their spring survey.

The percentage of firms in Maryland who expect to increase staff over the next six months was 19 percent compared to 35 percent in the bank's spring report. In the Washington area, that portion was 29 percent compared to 35 percent.

-Cecilia Kang

By Dan Beyers  |  October 4, 2007; 12:53 PM ET
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