Small Business Optimism Rose Slightly in May: NFIB

An index measuring optimism among small businesses edged up 0.4 point in May, but owners showed neither excitement nor anxiety over the state of the U.S. economy, according to a private sector survey on Tuesday.

The Index of Small Business Optimism rose in May to 97.2 from 96.8 in April, the National Federation of Independent Business said in its monthly report.

"The forecast may be pretty good, but our people aren't seeing it yet or expecting it and it's showing up in their plans not to add inventories, their plans not to make major capital outlays," said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg, in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "Nobody thinks it's a real great time to expand business right now, because they don't see a future that's quite that good."

Employment gains were solid in May but not spectacular. The unemployment rate will stay low, but might rise a few tenths of a point, NFIB said.

"This year's May employment gains were as expected," said Dunkelberg. "The NFIB survey has anticipated solid gains all year."

Nearly one-fourth of owners, 24 percent, reported unfilled job openings, down by two points from April, NFIB said, while 12 percent said the availability of qualified labor was their top business problem, a situation unchanged since February.

"On jobs we continue to have to fill positions we've had for a long time. We just can't find qualified workers," Dunkelberg said.

During the next three months, 13 percent of the owners polled plan to create new jobs, unchanged from April, while 54 percent of small firms reported hiring or trying to hire new workers, NFIB said.

Labor compensation will be pressuring profit margins all year, the group said.

The results are based on 618 respondents to the May survey of a random sample of NFIB's 600,000 member firms surveyed through May 31.