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Lending enters a ‘new normal’

Banks easing terms for small businesses

– Banks are making it easier for small businesses to get loans, and they’re giving companies better terms and lower interest rates.

That’s the conclusion of researchers at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management and Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., who last week released the results of a survey on small-business financing.

Forty-four percent of the small businesses surveyed last month said they received bank loans during the previous three months. That’s a sizable increase from 39 percent in February and 34 percent last fall.

The Pepperdine Private Capital Access Index for small businesses rose to 27.7 from 27.1 in February. It measures companies’ demand for and ease in getting financing, including loans.

Banks are taking more steps to persuade small businesses to borrow, said Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. CEO Jeff Stibel. Interest rates for small businesses, which had been about 15 percent, are falling, he said. Banks are also willing to lend for longer terms than they did a few years ago.

Stibel’s company compiles credit reports on small businesses.

Banks are willing to lend because small businesses are generally healthier than they were during the recession and its aftermath, Stibel said. Their cash flow is stronger, and they’re keeping their expenses down, which makes them more appealing to risk-averse banks that want to lend.

“We’re entering a new normal,” he said.

Small-business owners who have been conservative with their finances since the recession began 6 1/2 years ago are still cautious, the survey shows. An index measuring their demand for outside financing of all types fell 1.3 points to 32.1.

Companies’ hiring plans are also conservative.

Forty-seven percent of small businesses said they had no plans to hire in the next six months, up 2 percentage points from February.

The number of businesses planning to hire up to two employees rose to 35 percent from 33 percent, but the number of companies planning to hire three to 10 workers fell slightly.

Stibel expects hiring to increase. He noted that many owners are getting lines of credit, but they aren’t rushing to use them. They want to be sure they have the money on hand when they’re ready to expand or hire, he said.

Owners’ revenue expectations for their companies were little changed from February. Many owners have said in separate surveys that they won’t hire until they have enough new business to justify expanding their payrolls.

The survey included responses from 1,251 companies of all sizes.