October 8, 2019 11:00 AM, EDT

US Small-Business Optimism Drops to Near Lowest Mark of Trump Era

Businesswoman poses in her chocolate shopAnnie Rupani, owner of Cacao & Cardamom chocolate shop in Houston, smiles inside one of her stores Sept. 16, 2019. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

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U.S. small-business sentiment fell to near the lowest level of Donald Trump’s presidency, as tariffs and economic uncertainty increasingly weigh on the outlook for owners across the country.

The National Federation of Independent Business’ optimism index declined 1.3 points to 101.8 in September, the third drop in four months, according to data released Oct. 8. While the gauge remains elevated by historical standards, it’s the lowest since March and close to January’s 101.2, which was the weakest since Trump’s term began in early 2017. Analysts expected a reading of 102.

The report adds to signs that the economy is cooling but not yet sliding into recession. Data last week showed the U.S. added fewer jobs than expected in September, while services and manufacturing activity weakened. At the same time, unemployment at a half-century low indicates the labor market remains tight, and the Federal Reserve’s two straight interest-rate cuts should support growth.

Most components in the NFIB index declined. Twenty-two percent of respondents said the next three months is a good time to expand, the lowest since February, and a net 9% said they expect business conditions to be better six months from now, the lowest since January.

The latest survey was based on responses from 603 NFIB members through Sept. 28.

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