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Programs for the Small Business Summit held at the MaRS Discovery District on Nov 8 2011.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Small business confidence has risen for the sixth month in a row, according to the latest data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

It says the confidence index rose to 66 in the last month, but still has a few points to make up before re-establishing the high levels seen this time last year.

An index above 50 means owners expecting their businesses' performance to be stronger in the next year outnumber those expecting weaker performance.

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The CFIB says businesses in Western Canada are generally the most optimistic with Alberta, at 72.3 points and Saskatchewan at 70.1, again at the top of the list.

February also saw meaningful gains in optimism in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario but confidence in B.C. fell and PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador are following the same direction.

Optimism weakened in construction and manufacturing, but it was more than offset by big improvements in retail and hospitality, suggesting that consumers are in a positive frame of mind.

Owners in the natural resources and the business services sector are the most upbeat.

"Small businesses saw a little more sunshine in February," said Ted Mallet, chief economist and vice-president for CFIB.

"Better conditions in Ontario and the Maritimes, that were once held back by European and U.S. economic worries, appear to be driving the gains in sentiment."

The February findings are based on 877 responses, collected from a random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Findings are statistically accurate to plus or minus 3.3 per cent 19 times in 20.

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Based on past results, indexes normally range between 65 and 75 when the economy is growing.

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