Feb. 13, 2007 -- The mood of the nation's small-business owners improved in January, lifted by a stronger outlook for jobs, the National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday.

Based on a national survey of small-business owners, the Washington-based lobby group's monthly optimism index rose 2.5 points last month to 98.9, compared to a benchmark level of 100.

Seven of 10 index component made gains in January, including the number of owners planning to create jobs in the months ahead, the report said. Meanwhile, about a one-fourth said they already had unfilled job openings, the report said.

"Job creation should continue reasonably strong, assuming owners can find qualified applications," William Dunkelberg, the group's chief economist, said in a statement.

Spending plans were also on the rise, with more owners expecting to buy new equipment, vehicles, or expanded facilities or buildings, the report said.

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