The National Federation of Independent Businesses, a trade group representing small companies, said its monthly Small Business Optimism index increased 1.9 points in February to 90.8. The improvement is welcome, the association said, but the index "remains on par with the 2008 average and below the troughs" of two previous recessions.
By close of trading, investors found just enough muscle to push the Dow Jones industrial average to a 2.77 point gain, pushing the index up 0.02 percent to 14,450.06.
The Standard and Poor's 500 index shed 3.74 points or 0.24 percent to 1,552.48. The Nasdaq composite dropped 10.55 points or 0.32 percent to 3,242.32.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,258 stocks advanced and 1,793 declined on a volume of 3.2 billion shares traded.
The 10-year U.S. treasury bonds rose 12/32 to yield 2.021 percent.
Against the dollar, the euro fell to $1.3028 from Monday's $1.3046. Against the yen, the dollar was lower at 96.06 yen from 96.29 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 shed 0.28 percent, 34.24 points to 12,314.81.
In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.11 percent, 6.99 points to 6,510.62.