BOSTON (TheStreet) -- It may run somewhat contrary to anecdotal evidence, but research by HSBC Bank USA indicates small-business owners, domestically and abroad, are showing increased confidence as they enter the second half of the year.

HSBC's semi-annual "Small Business Confidence Monitor" found that while business confidence remains strongest in emerging markets, U.S. small businesses are "demonstrating improved local economic growth, capital expenditure and recruitment plans, and a more optimistic outlook than they did heading into the start of the year."

The research, touted as the largest international survey of its kind, involved more than 6,300 small and medium enterprises across 21 markets in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America and Latin America. The results were used to calculate an index ranging from 0 to 200, with 200 representing the highest confidence level. In the most recent survey, confidence rose across the globe to 118 from 111, with emerging markets (122) appearing seven points higher than developed markets (115). The outlook for North America was 119, up 12 points from the fourth quarter of last year.

Because U.S. small businesses were among the markets hit hardest by the economic downturn, the latest results offer "a sign that the economy is trending in a positive direction," says Mark Luppi, executive vice president and head of business banking for HSBC-North America. He says the findings indicate that even if expansion plans or increased hiring are not imminent for many, conditions have at least stabilized.

Eighty-seven percent of U.S. SMEs anticipate that their local economic growth will be maintained or increased in the next six months, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters said their recruitment plans will remain unchanged (74% vs. 85% in Q4 of last year). Eighty-six percent expect their capital expenditure plans to remain at the same level or increase over the next six months.

More than half (59%) of American SMEs see their prospects for the second half of this year improving compared with the first half of the year; about a third (31%) expect prospects to remain the same.

HSBC Bank USA, a subsidiary of

HSBC North America Holdings

, has total assets of $187 billion and serves its 3.8 million customers through its personal financial services, commercial banking, private banking and global banking and markets segments.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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