OPTIMISM is seeping back into the business community, with firms planning to expand operations, ramp up hiring and invest more in capital and staff.

But it will all be done in moderation, reflecting the cautious mood that still lingers even though the worst has passed, according to a survey of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) out on Wednesday.

Just one in five firms polled said they have plans to expand overseas in the next year, with 16 per cent saying they want to focus on growing at home first.

The rest of the respondents said they will focus on consolidation and cost cutting, such as improving customer service and switching to cheaper suppliers.

The annual sentiment survey conducted by credit and business data company DP Information Group was carried out between April and June and polled 2,341 firms.

On the hiring front, 45 per cent of firms said they will take on more permanent staff, while 15 per cent are looking to bring in part-timers.

Similarly, almost all of the respondents said they will either spend the same amount of money or more on technology.

SMEs cautiously optimistic