WASHINGTON — Bankers are getting back to the business of lending at a much stronger pace than in past years.

Eight out of 12 Federal Reserve Districts reported that demand for credit by consumers and businesses has improved as banking conditions continue to remain stable, according to the central bank's survey of economic conditions released Wednesday.

Small- to medium-sized banks in the New York District said they saw loan demand pickup in all categories, particularly when it came to commercial mortgages. "Bankers report increased loan demand, no change in credit standards, and the most widespread declines in delinquency rates in a number of years," according to the Fed's so-called Beige Book.

The neighboring Philadelphia District also reported similar results, saying loan demand continued to "grow slightly" since the last survey, but noted that activity has been uneven.

"Mirroring trends noted by other sectors, community banks note that the strongest loan demand has been for inventories and capital equipment to manufactures and for investments in higher education, technology sectors, and multifamily housing," said the Fed's survey.

In Cleveland, bankers described demand for business credit as either "steady or rising."

Those surveyed said requests for credit were being driven by commercial real estate, including multifamily housing and healthcare. Consumers, on the other hand, were requesting auto loans to buy new cars as well as home equity lines of credit.

Still, some smaller bank in the Cleveland District noted tougher competition in these areas.

"Several community bankers commented that it is difficult competing against large banks, credit unions, and captives, especially for motor vehicle loans," said the Fed's survey.

That was also true at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, with several bankers reporting they were beginning to offer easier terms to attract new commercial borrowers.

"Competitive pressures among banks remained intense, putting downward pressure on rates," said the Fed's survey.

Overall, bankers in Richmond said there were "modest" improvements in lending activity since the last survey.

"Officials at several large banks reported slow upward movement in commercial lending, particularly to small businesses that were financing inventory and new equipment," said the survey.

Turning to Dallas, financial firms said they experienced a "modest pickup" in loan demand with national banks reporting strength in middle-market lending and large corporate lending.

Even so, bankers' outlooks remained slightly mixed with a few who were "outright optimistic" and said that "loan demand is slightly stronger." Large bank lenders and regional banks were the most optimistic expressing strength in renewed corporate lending.

That optimism was also shared by bankers in the Kansas City District.

"Most bankers reported stable or improved loan quality compared to a year ago, and every banker respondent believed the outlook for loan quality over the next six months would be steady or improving," according to the Fed's survey.

Bankers in San Francisco's District, too, found that demand modestly rose from the last survey.

"While businesses generally remained highly cautious about their capital spending plans, the volume of new commercial and industrial loans edged up as businesses continued to pursue targeted investments geared towards increasing productivity," according to the Fed's survey. Demand for consumer credit, however, was left largely unchanged.

In Atlanta, improvement continued to lag with loan demand remaining relatively weak, according to community bankers surveyed.

"Contacts at community banks indicated liquidity levels remained high, a result of increasing deposit balances and relatively soft loan demand," said the survey.

Adding to that, low property values in rural areas in Atlanta's District also were weakening loan activity.

"The demand for mortgages varied widely by market and some community bank contacts indicated that they have exited the mortgage origination market altogether," said the survey.

Other districts like St. Louis reported that loan demand remained level.

"Overall lending at a sample of small and medium-sized District banks was essentially unchanged during the three-month period from mid-December to mid-March," said the Fed's survey.

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