Companies in Wales report lower than average prospects at 17 per cent according to new business barometer findings.
Lloyds Bank's figures put optimism at 10 per cent.
Together, this gives an overall confidence of 14 per cent, which is 21 points below the average across the UK of 35 per cent.
Across the UK overall confidence rose seven points to a nine-month high, driven mainly by a rise in firms' economic optimism.
Lloyds Bank's Business Barometer for January 2018 shows:
* Overall confidence for firms in Wales is at 14 per cent, 21 points below the national average
* Economic optimism in the region stands at 10 per cent, below that recorded across the UK as a whole
* Firms' confidence in their own business prospects is 17 per cent, compared with a UK average of 39 per cent
The Business Barometer provides early signals about UK economic trends and has been run monthly since January 2002. This is the first time that the survey, which questioned 1,200 businesses, has been carried out on a regional as well as national basis.
Welsh businesses' economic optimism (10 per cent) is lower than the national average of 31 per cent.
Meanwhile, their confidence in their own business prospects (17 per cent) is 22 points lower than across the UK as a whole.
Job creation and wage growth
Companies' hiring intentions showed that a net balance of just eight per cent of businesses in the region expect to hire more staff during the next year, while firms expect a median annual increase in average pay in the region of one to two per cent during 2018.
Across the region, a net balance of eight per cent of businesses feel that the UK's exit from the European Union was having a positive impact on their expectations for business activity.
Andrew Kemp, regional director for South Wales at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: "It's concerning to see that while overall UK business confidence has risen, firms in Wales feel much more pessimistic - to the extent that it was the lowest ranking region analysed.
"This lack of confidence seems to have affected companies' plans to invest in expanding their workforce, with only a small percentage of businesses stating that they will be creating jobs over the coming months.
"Speaking to firms across the region, they are resilient but remain cautious due to ongoing economic and political uncertainty. Companies will be watching the next phase of EU negations carefully and will welcome any clarity they may bring."
Overall confidence is highest among businesses in London and the North West, both at 47 per cent, followed by the West Midlands at 45 per cent.
Business in Wales are the least confident in the UK, closely followed by Scotland (18 per cent and the North East (18 per cent).