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Small-Business Sentiment Nearly Flat as 'Fiscal Cliff' Looms

U.S. small-business sentiment ticked up 0.3 in October—nearly unchanged—as uncertainty about future business conditions reached a record high.

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The National Federation of Independent Business said its optimism index rose to 93.1 last month, after slipping in September.

"We haven't been above 95 during this entire recovery" that started in July 2009, said William Dunkelberg, NFIB's chief economist.

The survey, conducted before the presidential election, found that the percentage of owners uncertain about whether business conditions would be better or worse in six months reached a record high of 23 percent, the NFIB said. This eclipsed the pre-recession record of 15 percent reached during the Carter Administration.

"The Index still remains in solidly pessimistic—and recessionary—territory," said Dunkelberg in a prepared statement.

Looking Ahead to the 'Fiscal Cliff'

While President Barack Obama was re-elected in the November 6 race, small businesses now are focused on the so-called "fiscal cliff," when automatic spending cuts and tax increases kick in at the end of the year unless Congress can reach a deal. (Read more: What Is the 'Fiscal Cliff?')

"The fear of stalemate among the small-business community is palpable, as the looming fiscal cliff and the threat of higher costs and more taxes are very real possibilities come January. Until then, not knowing the direction of the economy will always have a dampening impact on spending and hiring," said NFIB's Dunkelberg in a statement.

Fallout From Super Storm Sandy

The impact of Super Storm Sandy that hit October 29 is not reflected in the October reading.

After filling dumpsters with ruined inventory, some business owners in New York City and New Jersey are waiting on emergency loans and insurance claims, or trying to personally finance their rebuilding.

They were applying for emergency loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg increased to $25,000 each the emergency loans available to small and medium-sized businesses affected by Sandy, and they are interest-free for the first six months, Reuters reported. (Read more: Sandy Lashes Brooklyn Businesses)

Reuters contributed to this report.

—By Heesun Wee, CNBC.com

Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com and follow us on Twitter @SmallBizCNBC.

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