Business optimism remains at low levels, according to a new survey by Grant Thornton.

The firm's Business Optimism Index, a quarterly confidence measure surveying more than 350 U.S. senior executives from various industries, remained essentially stagnant at 56.1 in May, compared to 56.3 in February. The slight drop makes the May figure the second-lowest measure since the index's inception in 2002.

U.S. business leaders' sentiments toward the U.S. economy remain pessimistic. Only 19 percent expect conditions will improve over the next six months.

The outlook for the executives' own businesses, however, remains high, with 75 percent feeling optimistic about their companies' growth over the next six months. The proportion who say they plan to increase staffing dropped only slightly from 36 to 35 percent. Ten percent plan to reduce staff, the same proportion in the previous survey.

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