An index of equipment leasing posted a solid gain in March, but it's not clear whether that shows that companies are starting to grow or that they're replacing old equipment.

The leasing and finance index compiled by the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA), which shows the volume of commercial equipment financed in the U.S. by 25 lease financing companies, jumped 36% in March from February, and was up 10% vs. March 2011. For the first quarter, new business volume was up 17% from the first quarter of 2010.

Ralph Petta, ELFA's COO, notes that the index cratered in 2008 and 2009, posting year-over-year declines of about 20% during that period. Starting in 2010, however, "there was a lot of frenzy in the business community to replaced aged assets," Petta says, and the index started showing gains of 20% year over year.

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