A majority of start-up owners are optimistic about the growth of their companies, according to the Kauffman/LegalZoom Startup Confidence Index.

The fourth-quarter survey, released on Thursday, found that 83% of the 693 respondents (who started companies in the last 12 months) anticipate profits to grow in the next year. The surveyed owners are clients of online legal documents provider LegalZoom, which partnered with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to conduct four quarterly surveys this year.

This new finding is a 4% uptick from the previous quarterly survey in July--and the highest confidence level expressed in all four surveys. Nearly 40% plan to hire more employees in the next 12 months--also the highest percentage to date. 45% expect consumer demand to increase, which is 10% more than in the third-quarter survey.

"We believe these findings are important because entrepreneurial confidence could be seen as something of a leading indicator, as new and young businesses prepare to lead the next economic expansion," said Dane Stangler, Kauffman's director of research and policy. 

Even the outlook for the U.S. economy overall became more optimistic--44% believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months, compared to just 32% in the previous quarterly survey. 

Other notable findings: Of the owners who applied for loans, 12% more had theirs approved than in the previuos quarter. Agewise, owners ages 18 to 30 expressed the greatest confidence in the growth of their companies .