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Businesses upbeat but slow to hire or invest, survey says

Businesses expect their companies to perform better this year but that optimism still isn’t translating into a push to hire more workers, according to a survey from the National Association for Business Economics.

Of the 64 members who responded to the January survey, most said they saw stronger sales in the final months of 2013, and 43 percent expect their companies to modestly boost selling prices this year. That’s the highest percentage in more than 12 months.

Most respondents don’t expect the health care law or the Federal Reserve’s easing of its stimulus policies to have a major effect on business, either. But only 37 percent expect to create jobs in the next six months, the same as in group’s October survey.

For the fourth quarter, only about a quarter of respondents said their companies expanded payrolls. Those most likely to report increased hiring were from the manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate sectors.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent in December, its lowest point in more than five years. But that wasn’t because people found jobs. Rather, they stopped looking for work altogether, making them no longer counted as unemployed.

About 70 percent of those who responded to group’s survey predict that the economy will grow between 2.1 and 3 percent this year. That too is little changed from October, but it is more optimistic than the 2.3 percent growth forecast by the Fed.

The survey results “suggest that economic growth accelerated to a moderate pace during the fourth quarter of 2013 from its modest pace the previous quarter,” said NABE President Jack Kleinhenz, principal and chief economist at Kleinhenz and Associates in Cleveland.

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