Despite flatter job growth and spending plans, the economic outlook of the nation's small-business owners held steady in May, the National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday.

Based on a survey of its 600,000 members, the Washington-based lobby's monthly small-business optimism index rose 0.4 points from April to 97.2, just below its 1986 baseline rate of 100. Typically, about a quarter of the group's members respond to the surveys.

Slightly more owners in May said they expected the economy to improve and sales to increase in the months ahead, while plans to increase employment and capital outlays were unchanged from the previous month.

At the same time, 29 percent of the owners surveyed reported raising prices, while an equal number reported higher compensation costs, both up slightly from April.

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