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"Fiscal cliff" is one name given to a conjunction of large federal tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January unless Congress takes action on those measures, which have been pushed into the future multiple times amid highly charged political battles.

The six-month economic outlook from the nation's small businesses turned significantly negative in November to one of its lowest levels in more than three decades, though plans for hiring did nudge upward, according to survey results released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Something bad happened in November -- and based on the NFIB survey data, it wasn’t merely Hurricane Sandy,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. "The storm had a significant impact on the economy, no doubt, but it is very clear that a stunning number of owners who expect worse business conditions in six months had far more to do with the decline in small-business confidence. Nearly half of owners are now certain that things will be worse next year than they are now. Washington does not have the needs of small business in mind. Between the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’ the promise of higher health-care costs and the endless onslaught of new regulations, owners have found themselves in a state of pessimism. We are forced to ask: is this the new normal?”

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="392"] National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index, released Dec. 11.[/caption]

A Congressional Budget Office report said the U.S. economy likely would slide into a "significant recession" when Bush Administration tax rates expire for an estimated 100 million Americans and $100 billion in mandatory spending cuts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Concerns about the economy are high on the minds of North Bay wealth managers surveyed by the Business Journal.

"The major challenge is that too many clients watch the nightly news and see the overly negative news about the economy and everything in general," said Charles Root, managing director of Double Eagle Financial in Santa Rosa. "Rarely one sees any positive reinforcement to the changes that have been taking place and there have been many good ones that allow one to take advantage of business opportunities.

"That said, businesses are concerned about costs and uncertainty, as well as future increase in taxes and health care costs. With all these uncertainties, no one wants to make a move other than to hold on to their cash and resources."

[For more of these comments, see "Wealth managers talk about challenges, risk and what’s ahead," Aug. 27.]