Heading into the new year, small business lending is heading in the right direction


The volume of small-business loans approved and the ratio of approvals-to-denials are both on their way up as we head into the new year. (LUKE MACGREGOR/REUTERS)
December 19, 2013

No, this past year did not bring the economic resurgence many small business owners were hoping for at the start of 2013. Consumers remain cautious, investors remain wary, and hiring has continued to ebb and flow.

However, there was at least one bright spot in all the economic data this past year, as the flow of small business loans continued to pick up speed in the wake of the recession.

Since January, the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the volume of new commercial loans to small firms, has averaged 110.4, up substantially from an average of 103.6 in 2012.

That marks that fourth straight year-over-year improvement, with the average previously jumping from 74.2 in 2009 to 80.7 in 2010 to 94.6 in 2011. The scores are indexed so that the volume of loans from January 2005 equals 100; so the measure is now above pre-recession levels.

In fact, in the group’s last reading published this year, using data from October, the index surged to 120.4, its highest level in more than six years. It was particularly pleasant surprise, given that many feared the temporary shutdown of the Small Business Administration that month would slow the flow of loans.

The Reuters/PayNet Index isn’t the only one showing signs of improvement. Biz2Credit this month reported that small-business loan approvals by large banks surged to 17.4 percent in November, up from 14.9 percent during the same month last year and bringing the rate back to pre-recession levels.

“Big banks have begun to feel the pressure to lend more money with the Dodd-Frank reform bill nearing,” Rohit Arora, chief executive of Biz2Credit, an online small-business lending platform, said in a statement, referring to provisions of the financial reform legislation signed in 2010 that will soon take effect. Some say the new rules and restrictions in the law are prompting banks to search for additional sources of revenue or beef of existing ones — like small-business loans.

“We should expect to see more changes accordingly in the next year,” he added.

And there are additional reasons to expect the trend to continue in 2013.

Credit health is improving on Main Street, as only 1.14 percent of small business borrowers were more than a month behind on repaying their loans in October. The number has fallen or held steady every month so far in 2013 and is down 13 percent from the start of the year (1.31 percent in January).

By comparison, 1.58 percent were well behind on their loans in January 2012; two years earlier, it was all the way up at 3.03 percent.

Meanwhile, the cost of some small loans is likely to come down next year, as the SBA announced in October that it would waive the fees this coming year for all loans of up to $150,000. In her announcement, Jeanne Hulit, the agency’s acting administrator, noted that “the most significant credit gap we see is for smaller dollar loans.”

Helping those firms get the capital they need, she added, “is good for these businesses, it’s good news for their neighborhoods and communities, and it’s good news for our economy.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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