Lenders are bullish on light manufacturing concerns and technology, but continue their pullback from the lackluster retail sector, according to a new survey.

Nearly two-thirds of 116 lenders polled in Phoenix Management Services' quarterly questionnaire are actively marketing to light manufacturing companies and plan on doing so for the next six months. But 35% of lenders have scaled back exposure to retailers, whose holiday selling season failed to revive their prospects. Another 42% plan to do so over the next six months.

"Lenders are relatively positive about the economy and do not foresee changes in the pricing of their loans," said E. Talbot "Tal" Briddell, president of Phoenix Management. "However, they continue to be very sector- selective."

Within the retail sector, smaller companies seeking revolving lines of credit will have the hardest time finding lenders. Womens' fashion retailers are also out of favor with bankers, with only 11% voicing any interest in lending to them, said Mr. Briddell.

"History would suggest that the retail sector is a difficult industry to lend to," said Michael Rushmore, vice president and head of syndicated lending and trading research at BancAmerica Securities. About 75% of distressed, broadly syndicated bank loans are credits for retailers, he said.

Banks that want to lend to the retail industry need to invest heavily in the people and systems that let them know the industry and monitor those loans very carefully, he said. But that "creates opportunities for the most sophisticated lenders," he added.

Light manufacturing doesn't require the same resources.

"It is not difficult to understand the light manufacturing business, so consequently the risks are better understood, which makes for a smarter loan," said Mr. Rushmore.

Along with light manufacturing, industry sectors attracting lenders include industrial distribution concerns, service companies, technology firms, and heavy manufacturing.

"The single most active industries in 1997 will be media and telecommunications," said Mr. Rushmore.

Philadelphia-based Phoenix Management, a turnaround management firm assisting companies in financial, operating, or management difficulties, began its lending survey in November 1995.

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