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Small business optimism rose in April but is still weak

NEW YORK — Small business owners recovered some of their optimism during April, but they’re still wary about the economy.

The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that its index of small business optimism rose 2 points last month, bringing it to 94.5. That makes up for the 2 points lost in March, but only returns the index to its February 2011 level. William Dunkelberg, the NFIB’s chief economist, still classifies the reading as weak.

Dunkelberg said owners’ plans to hire rose during April. And he said a greater number of small companies reported higher sales and profits.

But he noted that news about the U.S. economy is bad — the government reported that gross domestic product growth slowed to an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the first quarter, from 3 percent in the final three months of 2011. And Europe’s debt crisis still shows no signs of easing. Also, inflation could become more of a worry because more NFIB members say they’ve raised their prices in the last three months.

Economists have cited owners’ unease about the economy as a reason for the slow growth in jobs this year. The Labor Department said Friday that 115,000 jobs were created last month, the fewest since October.

“Most likely, there will be only small improvements on Main Street in optimism or hiring and spending this year,” Dunkelberg said in a statement.

The index was compiled from a survey of 1,817 NFIB members. The group represents and lobbies on behalf of 350,000 business owners.

Said Ellen Valentino, Maryland director for the NFIB in a statement: “It’s a modest improvement but an improvement nevertheless, and that’s important. Small business owners are still concerned about the mess in Washington, but we’re seeing a very faint light at the end of the tunnel.”