Small-business owners' confidence in the economy surged this month.

Discover Financial Services said Monday that its Small Business Watch index climbed 6.3 points in March, to 78.2, the largest gain in nine months. The index was pegged at 100 when it was created in 2006.

The Riverwoods, Ill., credit card company said that 24% of respondents said conditions for their businesses were improving, compared to 19% in February, and the best response to this question since August. Forty-seven percent said conditions were declining, down from 54% last month.

Ninety percent of small-business owners rated the national economy as fair or poor, unchanged from February.

Forty-eight percent said they plan to invest less in their businesses in the next six months, down from 51%; 21% said they expect to increase their spending, and 29% said they do not expect to change their spending plans.

"Increased confidence in economic conditions is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise bleak business environment," Ryan Scully, Discover's director of business credit cards, said in a press release.

"Small-business owners are far less bleak about the direction of the overall economy than they have been in months," he said.

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