Discover Financial Services, the parent company of the Discover Card brand, conducts monthly surveys of small business owners and publishes the Discover Small Business Watch index based on its findings. The company defines "small business" as any enterprises with fewer than five employees and surveys 750 owners of these enterprises for the index.
Discover reported that the index fell 12 points in November, to 76.5 from 88.5 in October.
"Fading confidence among small business owners could be tied to their low expectations for the upcoming holiday season, as 46% are forecasting decreased sales and 39% are expecting to hold the line," said Ryan Scully, director of Discover's business credit card. "However, we saw drops in optimism across the board, so it's hardly just one factor causing the concern."
The only potential bright spot came in the brand's acknowledgment that some degree of downturn in outlook has been common among small business owners in previous Novembers.
The mood of small business owners generally has soured in November for three straight years, as economic confidence dropped from October to November in 2007 and 2008, Discover reported. The November 2008 index of 67.5 is the low point for the index since it started in August 2006.
Discover reported the specifics of the survey to include:
Over 52% of owners said they have experienced cash flow issues in the past 90 days, up from 44% in October.
Over 52% of small business owners saw conditions getting worse in the next six months, up from 43% in October; while 19% reported that conditions are improving, a sharp decline from 29% in October.
Over 61% of small business owners rated the economy as poor, an increase from 55% in October.
Over 52% of small business owners thought the overall economy is getting worse, up from 44% in October but still significantly lower than the 69% of owners who felt that way in February 2009, the last time the index was this low.
Discover reported small business owners had a particularly glum outlook on the holiday season: Only 11% expected to see more business this year over last, while 46% of them were expecting less business than last year, an increase over the 40% who said the same in November 2008; 39% anticipated 2009 sales will be about the same as last year, and 4% weren't sure.