The economic outlook of the nation's small-business owners continued to fade last month, as hiring and spending plans declined, the National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday.

The Washington-based lobby group's monthly small-business optimism index for June fell 1.2 points to 96, below its historic average of 100.2. The index, based on a survey of the group's 600,000 members, has remained below 100 for 15 of the past 16 months. Typically, about a quarter of all members respond to the surveys.

In June, seven of 10 components of the index declined, including higher sales expectations, plans to increase employment and spending, and earnings trends, among others.

"Small-business owners have seen little to encourage them about growth," William Dunkelberg, the group's chief economist, said in a statement. Despite the downturn, he said there were few signs that the economy was slipping into a recession.

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