Despite many businesses experiencing a boost in sales during the fourth quarter of 2013 and an increased optimism about business prospects ahead, the overall economic outlook has worsened, with less than half of business owners anticipating favorable conditions over the next six months, according to Capital One’s latest Spark Business Barometer. The quarterly survey of small businesses measures the economic perceptions and financial conditions of small business owners across the nation, as well as the most common trends and challenges that today’s small businesses face. “On the heels of positive short-term sales results, our survey found that a growing number of small business owners continue to have concerns related to the economy, and are exploring and embracing new technologies to help manage their business and work more efficiently,” said Keri Gohman, head of small business banking at Capital One. “This is a trend we’ll watch closely as Capital One continues to innovate and introduce digital products and services designed to optimize business.” Results HighlightsFinancial Performance: Small business sales are stabilizing and improving, with 40 percent of small businesses nationwide reporting sales increases over the past six months. Since last quarter, the percentage of businesses reporting higher sales has increased by 8 percent, while the percentage of businesses reporting sales declines has decreased from 20 percent to 18 percent. Small businesses with an international customer base (52 percent) and firms in the finance industry (66 percent) were more likely to report sales improvements. Despite the fact that more small businesses are reporting sales improvements, only forty-six percent of small businesses expect their firm’s financial situation to improve over the next six months and 9 percent anticipate lower performance. This is an eight percent improvement compared to Q4 2012, when only 38 percent of small businesses anticipated financial growth.