The portion of small businesses that told a trade group that their recent borrowing needs had not been satisfied increased 3 percentage points from the month prior, to 11% in January.

The National Federation of Independent Business' latest survey, released last week, also contained other signs that loan demand could be increasing.

The percentage of respondents that said they plan to trim inventories in the next three months to six months less the percentage that said they planned to build inventories improved 4 points, to minus 4. The net percentage planning capital expenditures also increased 2 points, to 20.

Still, the portion of small businesses that reported borrowing at least once every three months remained low at 32% (the figure averaged 35.6% from 2005 to 2009), and the net portion of borrowers that said getting loans was harder than three months ago fell 1 point, to 14%.

The report once again emphasized that few respondents identified financing as their biggest problem (a plurality continued to name poor sales), and it was bitterly dismissive of the Obama administration's proposal to repurpose some Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to boost capital at community banks for small-business lending.

The government "pays lip service" to the economic importance of small businesses, it said, "but when it comes time to provide help, small business gets $30 billion if banks decide to accept the Tarp funds to support loans and if the owners can subsequently get a loan from a bank. But for most firms, this dinky amount is of little help."

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