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3 Things You Should Know About Small Business: Jan. 9

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- What's happening in small business today?

1. Small-business confidence up -- barely. It should come as no surprise that small-business owner confidence didn't have a large rebound in the final month of 2012. According to the National Federation of Independent Business' Small Business Optimism Index , while owner optimism rose 0.5 from November's historically low report to 88 -- it was the second-lowest reading (behind November) since March 2010.

December's poor report resulted largely from a deterioration of labor market components, and the surprising percentage of owners who still expect business conditions to worsen in the next six months, the NFIB says.

"The 11th-hour fiscal cliff deal has brought marginal certainty about tax rates and extenders and will provide some relief to owners, but it certainly doesn't guarantee a more positive forecast for the economy," said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. "The January survey results will be far more enlightening about how the sector views the deal -- higher taxes and minimal spending cuts may not be a panacea. And let's not forget what is looming on the horizon: a debate over the debt limit and a regulatory avalanche of historic proportions about to spill out into the country. Happy New Year."

December's reading is certainly not typical during a recovery, NFIB says. Seventy percent of owners surveyed characterized the current period as a bad time to expand; one in four of them cite political uncertainty as the top reason. Taxes and regulation rank as the top two business problems, with "poor sales" as a close third, the index found.

2. Small-business lending by big banks jumps in December. Loans approved by large banks to small companies rose 13% last month, according to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index . The 14.9% approval rate at big banks (those with more than $10 billion in assets) is the highest recorded by the index and marks a significant jump from the approval rate in November as well as the 9.7% approval rate in the year-earlier period.

"After a hiccup in November, big banks are coming back strong into the small-business lending game," said Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit co-founder and CEO, who oversaw the research. "When we look at how difficult it was to secure capital from large banks a year ago, we can see just how much the lending landscape has improved during all of 2012."

Community bank approval rates also increased in December, climbing to 49.8% from 49.2% in November and 47.1% a year earlier, the report found.

That said, credit union loan approvals to small businesses slipped once again to 47.6% from 48.4% in November - the seventh consecutive monthly drop in approvals. Alternative lenders - accounts receivable financers, merchant cash advance lenders, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), microlenders and others - dipped for a second straight month to 63.8%, down from 64.5% the previous month.