A survey indicates bankers are optimistic about loan demand - a favorable sign for the overall economy.

In the survey of bank and thrift executives, conducted for KPMG Peat Marwick's annual credit risk management study, anticipated growth was especially strong in small-business, home equity, and commercial real estate portfolios.

The more than 100 survey responses - 10 of the top 20 banks were included - yielded average growth projections for 1996 of 10.47% in small- business loans, 9.25% in home equity, and 6.56% in commercial mortgages.

"All these increases bode well for the economy," said Kevin Carney, a consultant in KPMG's Charlotte, N.C., office. For all of the banks to meet these expectations, he said, the economy would have to pick up.

Projections were a more modest 5% to 6% in the big-volume categories of residential mortgages, direct automobile loans, and credit cards.

Regarding small-business loans, where growth expectations are greatest, 84% of those surveyed predicted they will increase by more than 5%.

Martin "Dev" Strischek, executive vice president at Barnett Banks Inc. and former chairman of the loan officer trade group Robert Morris Associates, said the survey confirms that small business continues to be a favored target market.

The survey also points to an imminent, potentially dramatic turnaround for commercial real estate lending.

Nearly two-thirds of the responding bank and thrift executives anticipated an increase of greater than 5% in real estate lending. In the 1994 survey, only 41% expected such growth.

"In general, real estate is no longer two bad words," said Matthew Galligan, a managing director in real estate finance at Bank of Boston Corp.

"There's clearly a much higher degree of comfort on the part of a far broader number of lenders in the real estate industry than I've seen in the last nine years," he said.

The survey also indicates institutions may not be pricing their commercial portfolios to be appropriately rewarded for risks.

Mr. Carney pointed out that the average portfolio had 40% of loans concentrated in one risk category. Thus, he said, the loans probably carry a greater range of risk than their pricing reflects.

Mr. Galligan said he thought commercial real estate loans were appropriately priced.

"The relative risk is not nearly as great as it has been in my 20-year career in real estate," he said. "There's still a very large equity cushion in these transactions."

"The pricing has been one of the positives of small-business lending," Mr. Strischek added.

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