Borrowing by U.S. small businesses is at its highest since July of 2008, two months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, says the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the volume of small business financing. (PayNet provides risk management tools to the commercial lending industry, and the loans it tracks typically are used to buy or update plants and equipment.)
The index was up 26 percent in May compared to the year before.
"If small businesses are taking these kinds of chances, taking risks, making long terms investments, they are seeing some long-term opportunities on the horizon," PayNet founder Bill Phelan told Reuters. "That's got to be a big positive sign for the economy."
Historically, changes in the index are about two to five months ahead of the overall economy. But the positive report comes on the heels of research from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles claiming small business owners are excited about the future, but can't get the loans they need to grow.
Dr. Jon Paglia, a Pepperdine finance professor, surveyed 1,221 small business owners. Half tried to find a loan to help their companies grow in the last six months, but banks are denying 60 percent of loans. Also in the report, 72 percent of bankers said they expect to close fewer financing deals in the next six months than they have in the recent past.
The biggest reasons? Bankers worry that companies won't be able to find access to capital (which is ironic, given that their banks are primarily responsible for lending out that capital). Banks also worry that continued economic uncertainty will make it difficult for companies to meet their growth expectations. And increasingly, government regularion will become a major issue for small business. More pressure from regulators is the No. 1 emerging issue for small, private companies, according to the survey.
Which report do you believe? Have you tried getting a loan lately?