Optimism over the U.S. economy is improving and firms are planning to ramp up hiring in the coming months, the latest National Association for Business Economics (NABE) survey showed.

In the fourth-quarter poll of 84 companies by NABE found 42 percent of companies interviewed expect to boost jobs in the six months ahead, a Wall Street Journal report said on Monday.

That's up from 29 percent in the first three months of 2010. Only 7 percent in the latest survey predict they will shed jobs in the coming six months, down from 23 percent at the start of last year, says the report.

The report says the survey showed the gap between hiring and firing plans widened to the highest level since 1998, meaning companies plan to hire more people than they plan to fire.

Economists at IHS Global Insight concur with the view that the positive momentum in the U.S. economy is gaining strength.

The economy is gradually migrating into a generally better growth rhythm, reflecting some possible broadening in the recovery across regions and industries, wrote U.S. economists Brian Bethune and Nigel Gault. Recent indicators, even on the proverbial bad boy housing sector, have been more positive than expected. Indeed, the positive economic news over the past week appeared to provide the octane behind the latest fairly decisive up move in the stock market, as earnings reports were mixed, they wrote.

WSJ said the while recent drop in weekly jobless claims points to a stronger labor market, the tax-cut package approved in December will give a boost to the economy. The NABE survey shows that more than half of those surveyed thought sales would get a fillip from the tax-cut deal.