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A quarterly survey by M&T Bank Corp. of its business borrowers found sentiment about the economy has "weakened considerably" in the third quarter, as a result of a series of disappointing job reports, sluggish economic growth and continued uncertainty about Europe and the U.S. presidential election.

Just 18 percent of middle-market businesses surveyed feel the economy has improved in the past six months, down significantly from 46 percent in the previous poll in February.

And 28 percent say the economy has worsened, more than quadruple the 6 percent from February. More than half, or 54 percent, saw no change.

Just 20 percent expect U.S. economic growth to pick up in the next six months. Just over half, or 52 percent, felt that way in February.

Among the bank's commercial real estate customers, 25 percent say the economy is better than six months ago, down by half from 50 percent in February, and just a little higher than the 19 percent who say it's worse.

"If survey respondents are bearish on the national economy, it is hardly reflected in expectations for their own business prospects," M&T's report said.

Among middle-market businesses, 46 percent expect unit sales to improve, while 17 percent expect a drop. That's not as strong as 58 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in February but still favorable. More than 25 percent expect to add workers in the next six months, down slightly from 32 percent, but only 6 percent expect to make cuts, compared with 5 percent in February. And 40 percent expect higher capital spending, while only 11 percent say they will tighten the reins.

Similarly, 40 percent of commercial real estate customers expect industry conditions to improve, down from 60 percent, while 9 percent expect worsening, up from 5 percent. Nearly 33 percent expect occupancy rates to rise, down from 41 percent, while 20 percent expect occupancy to fall, up from 6 percent. But 40 percent expect higher rental rates, while only 9 percent expect them to be lower.

By region, 53 percent of those in the metropolitan New York City area and 47 percent of those in the Mid-Atlantic expect their area to outperform the country for the rest of this year, compared with 42 percent in upstate New York and 39 percent in Pennsylvania.

"The economic recovery has been uneven - explaining the volatility in business sentiment over the past several quarters - but most indicators continue to point towards slow and steady growth," the bank said.

"As businesses continue to add employees, grow sales and invest in expansion, the economy should continue to slowly improve."?

email: jepstein@buffnews.com