U.S. consumer spending increased a scant 0.1 percent in February, continuing the relentless drumbeat of weak economic indicators. So it's no wonder entrepreneurs are beginning to feel gloomy.

According to a survey from PNC Bank released on Thursday, 43 percent of small and mid-sized business owners are pessimistic about the U.S. economy, an increase of 10 percentage points from the bank's previous report in fall 2015. The reading is the highest since 2012, reports PNC, which has released fall and spring reports since 2003.

Still, entrepreneurs' pessimism seems at odds with the generally positive outlook they have about their own businesses. Forty-five percent said they expect to increase profits this year. While that's a slight drop from the spring 2015 survey, it's higher than each of the readings in the four years prior to that. A whopping 73 percent said they will be profitable in 2016, with an average profit of 7 percent of sales.

The survey found an additional bright spot in the manufacturing sector, where 43 percent of respondents said they had plans to hire in the next six months, up from 26 percent in the fall. That compares with 24 percent of all businesses in the newest survey that said they would add workers.

A negative point--and one that likely will ensure consumer spending stays muted--is that fewer businesses said they would increase employee wages. Just 34 percent said they would bump up pay in the next six months, compared with 42 percent in the fall of 2015, and 40 percent in the spring of 2015. If it's any consolation for workers, however, two-thirds of business owners said their own salaries would remain the same in the next six months.

PNC polled 1,867 executives between January and March at businesses with revenues of between $100,000 and $250 million.

Published on: Mar 31, 2016