Small-business owners seeking working capital loans are getting a warmer reception from large banks these days.
In what appears to be a sign of growing confidence in the economy, banks with $10 billion of assets or more approved 14.2% of small-business loan requests in September, up from 10.9% in August and 9.2% in September 2011, according to a report released Tuesday by the New York firm Biz2Credit.
Many of the loan requests are for working capital loans of less than $1 million — loans many banks have been reluctant to approve following the financial crisis, said Rohit Arora, the chief executive at Biz2Credit. The approval rate was the highest for large banks since Biz2Credit, a five-year-old firm that matches borrowers with lenders, began tracking loan approval rates at financial institutions in early 2011.
"A lot of small businesses say that their revenues are stabilizing and aren't dropping anymore," Arora said in an interview Tuesday. To banks, "these small companies appear less risky."
Approval rates remain well below historic norms, however. Before the crisis, it was not unusual for large banks to approve 40% or more of small-business loan requests, Arora noted.
"Some big banks are coming back into the market, but a lot are still on the sidelines," he said.
Still, evidence is mounting that banks of all sizes are gaining confidence in lending to small businesses. Apart from Biz2Credit's report on loan approvals, the Small Business Administration on Tuesday said that its programs supported $30.25 billion of loans in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, second-most in the agency's history. Last year was the busiest on record, but that was largely thanks to temporary incentives that were put in place as part of a jobs creation bill Congress passed in late 2010.
The SBA also reported that 1,300 lenders that had taken a hiatus from SBA lending following the real estate bust returned in 2012.
"Reaching such strong numbers is a clear sign that both the business and lending communities are regaining their confidence in the economic climate of the country," SBA Administrator Karen Mills said in a news release. "It means that the credit markets are increasingly willing to help small businesses establish themselves, grow and create new jobs."
The SBA also reported a sharp increase in approvals for working capital loans, which it attributed to a systems upgrade that now allows the agency to process the bulk of such applications online. For the fiscal year, the SBA approved 532 working capital loans totaling $410 million, compared with 108 loans totaling $118 million the previous year.
Working capital loans, however, still make up just a small fraction of SBA loans. For the year, the agency approved nearly 54,000 loans, most of which were for real estate, capital improvements, acquisitions and other purposes.