Credit Tighter for Midsize, Small Companies

The economy may be on the mend, but midsize and small companies are still having a hard time getting financing. About half of midsize companies say it has been harder to get credit so far this year than it was in the first months of last year, according to a survey conducted by financial services consultancy Greenwich Associates. Among small businesses, the outlook was even bleaker; 55% of them said it was harder to borrow this year.

Companies' finances are not yet in good enough shape to get them past the tighter lending standards banks have put in place over the last couple of years, says Chris McDonnell, a vice president at Greenwich. "Even companies that are making it through the process and borrowing from banks are saying the process was more difficult."

In fact, according the Greenwich survey, 36% of small businesses and 18% of midsize companies say they are accessing capital via their credit cards. "If you are a small, small company and you need cash, the bank isn't going to do it on normal financing terms, you're going to have to pay that extra rate on the credit card and be beholden to those terms and conditions," McDonnell says. He also notes that 61% of the small businesses surveyed say they're borrowing money in order to pay bills or other creditors.

The problems in accessing credit run counter to companies' increasingly upbeat views of both the economy and the outlook for their own businesses. Thirty-five percent of the midsize companies told Greenwich that financial conditions have improved over the last year, up from 21% in January, while 25% of small businesses report seeing an improvement, vs. 20% in January.

But just 22% of midsize companies borrowed over the last three months, according to the April Greenwich survey, down from the 27% that said they had borrowed in the January survey and 40% that had borrowed as of the September survey. Among small companies, only 24% borrowed over the last three months, versus 27% in January and 46% in September.

On a brighter note, the latest Federal Reserve survey of senior bank loan officers suggests that banks may have finished tightening their lending criteria. In the April Fed survey, slightly more banks reported easing lending standards on commercial loans than tightening them, echoing the results of the previous survey in January. It was the first time since 2006 that the survey showed a net easing in standards for two quarters in a row, but the Fed noted that lending standards remain quite strict.

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