U.S. NFIB business optimism survey edges lower on hiring plans

WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - U.S. small business sentimentweakened in September for the fourth time in five months asfewer owners expected to add staff and make capital investments.

The National Federation of Independent Business said onTuesday its optimism index fell 0.1 point to 92.8 last month.

The drop is a sign the U.S. economy is taking a hit fromuncertainty over the possibility of tax hikes and governmentspending cuts next year, said William Dunkelberg, chiefeconomist at the NFIB.

"Owners are in maintenance mode - spending only wherenecessary and not hiring, expanding or ordering more inventoriesuntil the future becomes more certain," Dunkelberg said.

He suggested uncertainty over the outcome of the country'supcoming general election is also probably hurting sentiment.

The NFIB had already released on Thursday the laborcomponents of its small business optimism index, which showed anet 4 percent of firms were expecting to create jobs inSeptember, down from 10 percent the prior month.

That weighed heavily on the overall index. Also holding backoptimism, the share of firms planning capital investments in thenext three to six months fell to 21 percent from 24 percent.

The U.S. economy has grown at a lackluster pace this year,which has hurt President Barack Obama's chances of winning theNov. 6 election. Opinion polls point to a very tight racebetween Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

And looming over the economic outlook, the federalgovernment is scheduled to tighten its belt severely in Januaryunless lawmakers pass an alternative plan.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Neil Stempleman)

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