Economic confidence among the nation's small business owners continued to improve in November.

The monthly Discover Small Business Watch index rose to 87.2 in November, up 3 points from 84.2 in October — the third consecutive monthly gain, and nearly 11 points higher than a year ago.

Cash flow concerns were at their lowest level in 17 months: 43 percent of small business owners experienced cash flow issues in the past 90 days, down from 46 percent in October. The highest this percentage has ever reached was 53 percent in August 2010 and July 2009; the lowest it has ever been was 32 percent in January 2007.

“We see slight improvements in nearly every survey category of the index, with significant improvement in the confidence of small business owners who sell consumer goods and services,” said Ryan Scully, director of Discover's business card. “There would appear to be some measurable hope for the holidays that business will improve. Even still, there’s no getting around the fact that 59 percent of America’s small business owners still rate the economy as poor.”

The subset of the direct-to-consumer segment of small business owners registered a confidence index of 89.6 in November, up from 83.6 in October, and 65.6 in August. The November index for this segment is the second highest recorded since October 2007.

The survey found that 25 percent of small business owners reported they will increase their spending on business development in the next six months, up from 22 percent in October; 40 percent plan to decrease business development spending in the next six months, down from 46 percent in October; and 28 percent don't plan any changes.

Discover Card also found that 33 percent of small business owners believe the economy is getting better, up from 31 percent in October and the highest since May; while 46 percent believe the economy is getting worse, down from 48 percent in October; 17 percent believe it's staying the same, equal to last month; and 4 percent are not sure.

Meanwhile, 59 percent of the survey respondents rate the current economy as poor, 30 percent rate it as fair, 6 percent rate it as good and 4 percent rate it as excellent.

The number of small business owners expecting more business over last year was 19 percent in November, up from 11 percent in 2009 and doubling from 9 percent in 2008. On the flip side, 32 percent of small business owners expect less business this holiday season, a drop from 2009 when 46 percent expected less holiday business. Forty-five percent of business owners expect business to be about the same as last year.

Twenty-four percent of small business owners extend credit to their customers, according to the survey. When asked whether in the past three months, any customers have delayed a payment or asked if they could delay a payment, 66 percent said yes, down from 73 percent in 2009.

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