WASHINGTON -- Companies are more upbeat about the economy and have increased hiring despite a slowdown in sales in the second quarter, a panel of business economists said Monday.

Nearly 30 percent of economists reported higher payrolls at their firms in the April through June period, the highest percentage since the end of 2011, according to quarterly industry survey results from the National Association for Business Economics.

The 29 percent figure was up from 22 percent in the first quarter and was consistent with improved monthly job growth data from the Labor Department in recent months.

The percentage of economists expecting economic growth to be greater than 2 percent in the next year increased to 72 percent in the second quarter, up from 65 percent in the previous quarter, the survey said.

The improvement came despite a slowdown in the growth of sales, "possibly reflecting increased headwinds from a weak global economic environment and tighter domestic fiscal policy," said Timothy Gill, chairman of the group's industry survey committee.

"Despite mixed signals regarding second-quarter business conditions, NABE's industry survey panel remains upbeat about the future," he said, noting the forecast for economic growth improved for the third straight quarter.

Although 35 percent of economists reported increased sales at their companies, that was down from 55 percent in the first quarter. But that first-quarter reading was sharply higher than figures from the last three quarters of 2012, which ranged from 37 percent to 39 percent.


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Fifteen percent of panelists reported declining sales in the second quarter, up from 9 percent in the previous quarter.

Most panelists -- 89 percent -- said the tax increases and automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in this year have not had a negative impact on their businesses. But that was down from 93 percent in the previous quarter.