By Patrick Thomas
Small-business owners' confidence in the U.S. economy improved slightly in April, the third consecutive monthly improvement, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index had an April reading of 103.5, up 1.7 points from the prior month. The NFIB said expectations for sales, business conditions and credit conditions all posted gains.
"There is no recession in sight this year," the NFIB said in its report.
The index declined for five consecutive months prior to February's report although the NFIB said optimism among business owners remains at historically high levels.
The NFIB survey is a monthly snapshot of small businesses in the U.S., which account for nearly 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.
The NFIB survey results--based on responses from 1,735 small-business owners last month--showed 20% of firms, on a seasonally adjusted basis, plan to create new jobs in the next three months. A month earlier, about 18% of firms said they planned on creating new jobs over that timeframe.
"The wide-spread willingness of owners to increase employment indicates that they see an economy that will be solid enough to deliver a return on their investment in labor as well as new capital," the NFIB said.
More new jobs were created in April, although at a slower pace than in the last quarter, according to the small-business association. About 38% of business owners reported having job openings they couldn't fill in the current period, the report said.
The group also noted that volatility in financial markets creates a lot of noise in analyzing U.S. economy but is disconnected from the strong small business sector.
The University of Michigan's consumer-sentiment index--an indicator of consumers' outlook on the U.S. economy--softened slightly to 97.2 in April from 98.4 in March.
Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com