10/05/2011 05:13 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

CFIB Business Barometer says small business confidence holding its own

TORONTO - After tumbling sharply downward in August, small business confidence in Canada has reportedly held its own in September.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says its national index of business confidence stood at 62.7 points last month.

This reading is up one point from its August level, but still well below the near-70 mark for most of early 2011.

Federation chief economist Ted Mallett says the gain is within the margin of error, so while it's not a sign of improvement, it does suggest the economy is not accelerating downward.

But there are big regional differences, with business owners in western Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador having the highest levels of optimism.

The least optimistic business owners are in Ontario and Quebec, suggesting larger-than-average concerns over the near-term prospects for the U.S. economy.

"Concern over fallout from the fiscal crises in the U.S. and Europe spreading to Canada is still with us, but for the most part, small business operating plans and expectations are tilted toward stability, if not to modest growth," said Mallett.

Business owners in the construction, retail and hospitality sectors are the least optimistic among sectors surveyed, while businesses in the natural resources, information, and health and education were able to rise above the general mood.

Measured on a scale between 0 and 100, an index level above 50 means owners expecting their businesses' performance to be stronger in the next year outnumber those expecting weaker performance.

The September 2011 findings are based on 861 responses to an online survey of federation members.

Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 3.3 per cent 19 times in 20.