Jan. 9, 2007 -- The mood of the nation's  small-business owners dropped to mid-summer levels in December, driven by fewer hiring plans and a bleaker outlook on the economy, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

The National Federation of Independent Business's monthly small-business optimism index fell 3.2 points last month to 96.5, compared to its benchmark level of 100.

Seven of 10 index components were down in December, including plans to increase employment and capital outlays, current job openings, and the outlook for higher real sales, the survey found.

"Labor markets ended the year with strength," William Dunkelberg, the NFIB's chief economist, said in a statement. "but it appears the first quarter performance may not be as strong."

- next -

Published on: Jan 9, 2007