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Employer confidence gauge is flat

A monthly confidence index that seeks to gauge the mood of employers posted a 50.1 reading in March, up 1.1 points from February but down 4.7 points from March 2012, Associated Industries of Massachusetts said Tuesday.

The association of business and institutional employers, known as AIM, uses a 100-point scale for its business confidence index. A reading above 50 suggests a positive outlook, a reading below 50 a negative view. A reading of 50 represents neutral.

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In a statement, Raymond G. Torto, chairman of AIM’s board of economic advisers, said that the reading, “which is about as close to neutral as it could be, continues what has now been three years of fluctuations with no strong pattern.”

In his view, employers are being cautious as they seek to sort out mixed messages from other economic indicators and from Washington, D.C., especially as the so-called sequester is debated.

“We see stock market indices at or near all-time highs, real estate values coming back up, and the US unemployment rate edging down,” Torto said.

“And here in Massachusetts, our local economy continues to perform relatively well. At the same time, there are new causes for concern: the sequester, which many survey respondents expect will have negative effects; banking woes in Cyprus; proposed state tax increases.

“The recovery is moving forward, but it is still more of a healing process for the economy than a return to full ­vigor.”

The index’s historical high was 68.5, attained in 1997 and 1998. Its record low was 33.3, in February 2009.

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