Small business owners’ confidence in the economy soured significantly from July to August in the largest one-month decline since November 2009, according to a new survey.

Business owners expressed a negative outlook for the economy in general and skepticism that economic conditions would get better for their businesses in the next six months, according to the Discover Small Business Watch. In August, 62 percent of small business owners said the economy is getting worse and a record 55 percent of small business owners expect economic conditions for their businesses to be unfavorable in the next six months, up 10 percentage points from July. Those indicators led the drop in confidence from 83 on the index in July to 73 in August.

Confidence was at a record low among small business owners who sell directly to consumers. Those small businesses slid 17.4 points since last month to a record-low 65.5 points on the index, compared to business-to-business operators who marked 79 on the index in August, down only 2.2 points from July.

“There’s growing concern that the economy is stuck in neutral, or even sliding, and small business owners definitely reflected that sentiment this month,” said Ryan Scully, director of Discover’s business card. “With the economy seemingly unable to show sustained growth, and small businesses not expanding to create jobs, it’s no wonder that confidence is down.”

August marks the third straight monthly decline in the index, which is the lowest it has been in 18 months on the four-year-old index. In July, 75 percent of small business owners said they expected a second recession to occur before the country sees a full recovery.

Another indicator that dropped to its lowest point ever is that only 17 percent of small business owners said they would increase business development spending in the next six months, down from 28 percent in July; 52 percent said they would decrease spending, up from 45 percent in July; and 29 percent don’t plan any changes.

On the job front, 78 percent of small businesses have no plans to do any hiring. When asked about hiring over the next few months, 72 percent of business owners had no plans to add or subtract jobs, 20 percent said they were laying off workers, and 6 percent planned to do some hiring. The percentage of small business owners planning layoffs is the lowest in the history of Discover’s Small Business Watch.

The survey also found that 53 percent of small business owners are experiencing cash flow issues, up from 47 percent in July; 43 percent said they are not; and 4 percent aren’t sure. Fifty-five percent of small business owners expect economic conditions for their businesses to get worse in the next six months, while 20 percent expect them to stay the same, and 21 percent think things will get better.

Sixty-two percent of small business owners rate the current state of the U.S. economy as poor, up from 58 percent, in July; while 28 percent rate it as fair; 6 percent rate it as good; and 3 percent rate it as excellent. In addition, 62 percent of small business owners say the economy is getting worse, up from 57 percent last month; 24 percent see it getting better; and 12 percent said it’s staying the same.

When asked whether the new financial reform bill would have any significant impact on their businesses, 48 percent of owners said no; 30 percent weren’t sure, and 22 percent said they expect it to have a significant impact. Of those expecting to be affected, 79 percent said the impact would be somewhat negative or very negative.

Fifty-five percent of small business owners think the reform measures will make it harder to obtain bank financing, while 13 percent said they believe it would have no impact, 22 percent weren’t sure, and 9 percent expected funding to be easier to obtain.

Compared to a year ago, small business owners had less enthusiasm for the future of green initiatives: 15 percent said green initiatives to protect the environment would help their businesses, compared to 20 percent a year earlier; 34 percent said such measures would hurt their businesses, up from 30 percent last year; and 46 percent expected no impact on their businesses, down from 48 percent in 2009.

A majority of small business owners, 71 percent, haven’t employed any green measures that have helped their bottom lines. Of the 20 percent who have, energy conservation had the most impact. Eight percent of respondents answered “not sure.”

Among a list of seven green industries that could help small businesses, owners ranked energy conservation the highest, but many more weren’t sure what might make a difference.

When asked “Which green industries could help your business the most?” small business owners ranked energy conservation at 16 percent, alternative fuels at 12 percent, solar power at 8 percent, transportation at 8 percent, recycling at 6 percent, water conservation at 3 percent, wind power at 2 percent, while 47 percent said they were not sure. As for the immediate future, 67 percent of small business owners are not planning to institute any green measures in the next six months, 21 percent are making plans, and 12 percent aren’t sure.

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