Politico: Credit crisis for small business?

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Washington, D.C., Oct 12, 2010 | comments
By John Maggs; Politico

Is there really a small-business credit crunch?

To hear President Barack Obama tell it, one of the most lasting effects of the financial crisis is the trouble that small businesses are facing in getting loans to expand.

While the credit crisis has eased for Big Business, the president has argued for months that additional help was needed to get loans flowing again to small businesses, so they can expand and hire more workers. On Friday, Obama celebrated the success of his $30 billion small-business loan program, announcing that 11 days after enactment, the program had resulted in a billion dollars in loans to 2,000 small businesses.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke agrees. “Over the past year or so,” he said recently, “a divide has opened between large firms that are able to tap public securities markets and small firms that largely depend on banks.

“Bank-dependent smaller firms have faced significantly greater problems obtaining credit, according to surveys and anecdotes,” he said.

But representatives of small business say it just isn’t so.

While these businesses are indeed struggling in the slow economy, the problem isn’t a shortage of credit, said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “The problem is a lack of customers.”

And that’s confirmed by the group’s monthly survey of members, he said, in which only 4 percent of small-business owners reported that a lack of credit was their top concern and 91 percent said they were able to meet all their credit needs.

Pessimism about the economy has led businesses to put off expansion and hiring plans, Dunkelberg said, and businesses that are borrowing are doing it mostly to smooth out cash flow problems.

A record low of only 31 percent of the survey’s respondents said they were borrowing on a regular basis to meet their daily needs and medium-term plans, reflecting a 35-year low for capital spending by small businesses.

“The bottom line is that what these businesses need is more demand and not more credit,” Dunkelberg said. “What we’d like to see from the government is a plan to get the economy moving.”

And at the top of that list is approval of current tax rates beyond year’s end, including those for the highest-earning 2 percent of taxpayers, which Obama and Democrats say should be allowed to rise.

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