Small business sentiment rebounds after five months of declines

Small-business owners' confidence in the U.S. economy improved slightly in February, breaking five consecutive months of declines and rebounding from the partial government shutdown, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

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The small-business lobby said its optimism index rose to 101.7 last month, from 101.2 in January, but fell short of economists' expected 103 reading, according to a Wall Street Journal survey.

The NFIB survey is a monthly snapshot of small businesses in the U.S., which account for about half of private-sector jobs.

Economists look to the report for a read on domestic demand and to extrapolate hiring and wage trends in the broader economy.

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"Small business owners are thankful to have the government shutdown in the rear-view mirror but need more certainty about the future," NFIB Chief Executive Juanita D. Duggan said in a statement.

The NFIB's February survey results showed earnings trends fell to the weakest reading in more than a year. Still, more respondents thought it was a good time to expand operations, though the political climate continues to weigh on their minds.

Write to Maria Armental at maria.armental@wsj.com