Independent business leaders surveyed by Newtek Business Services (NEWT) surprised market analysts by saying many of them are decidedly upbeat about 2012, according to its latest small business sentiment survey. The business firm interviewed 1,000 small business leaders and about 55% said they are optimistic heading into 2012, compared to 20% who are pessimistic and 25% who are neutral. About 64% said they are optimistic about their own business results and 68% said they are finding it easier to grow their own sales. The results surprised Barry Sloane, chairman, president and CEO of Newtek. "To be frank, we are pleasantly surprised at the optimism that is being generated by over 1,000 of our small business clients. Optimism about their business and the economy and their ability to grow sales has not been apparent in recent months or years. We attribute this optimism to the recent headline drop in the unemployment rate, the growth in consumer spending and small gains in hiring in the fourth quarter." Despite respondents reacting to positives that surfaced in the first part of the year, analysts say it's unknown whether job gains experienced in late 2011 will carry forward into 2012. Capital Economics is forecasting that the year-end boost will not remain through 2012. "Our econometric model suggests that the labor market ended 2011 on a high note, with nonfarm payrolls rising by around 150,000 in December," said Capital Economics. "That would be a marked turnaround from the stagnation in jobs growth seen last summer and would beat November’s 120,000 rise. But jobs growth is unlikely to accelerate further in 2012." Capital Economics also remains worried about the overall trajectory of the equities market in 2012, especially with America in the middle of a heated presidential primary and eventually a full-out presidential election. "The U.S. stock market has made a fairly encouraging start to 2012," Capital Economics wrote in a report. "At the time of writing, the S&P 500 was up more than 2% on Tuesday. But presidential election years are rarely the stuff of equity investors’ dreams. The average annual price appreciation of the S&P 500 in each election year since 1928 has been just over 5% in nominal terms and less than 3% after adjusting for inflation." Write to Kerri Panchuk.