The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has started an interesting new feature that we'll be watching closely here at Small Business Trends, called "Quarterly Indicators." The Quarterly Indicators are a compilation of economic trends likely to impact small firms. What do these Indicators suggest for the first quarter of 2004? Here are a few highlights, mostly all positive:Manufacturing production, which had been weak, is up. Capital spending is also up, meaning small businesses are buying equipment and making other major purchases.Proprietor's income has increased by 10% over the past year. Corporate profits increased a healthy 31.4% over a year's time.And it looks like the ranks of incorporated self-employed are up, now at 5.2 million compared with an average of 4.4 million over the past 3 years.Oddly, despite the positive economic growth and improvement, small business sentiment has dipped a bit since December 2003. The SBA speculates that this dip may be due to small business owners' concern over slow jobs growth in the US economy as a whole. But overall, sentiment is still higher than in the past 5 years. You can find the Quarterly Indicators in the most recent edition of the SBA newsletter.