The sweet spots nestled in some credit union business lending portfolios may be turning sour.
During the first half of the year, total outstanding SBA loans under $1 million continued to decline, according to the agency’s Office of Advocacy’s “Quarterly Lending Bulletin” released Oct. 14.
Loans outstanding to small businesses at the end of the second quarter totaled $607 billion. The 0.4% rate of decline in the second quarter is the slowest since the downturn, which began in 2008, the SBA reported.
“Economic recoveries in the past have been volatile; however, this recovery has been marked by more volatility and prolonged persistence while small business owners try to regain a foothold,” said Victoria Williams, an SBA economist.
Financial market conditions in the first half of 2011 were to some extent supportive of economic growth as borrowing conditions eased further for both businesses and consumers, Williams said, adding demand for commercial and industrial loans by large and medium-sized firms increased; however, small business lending remained suppressed.
“In a nutshell, the analysis shows that small business lending continues to have a difficult time emerging from the recession, which results in a much slower pace of economic recovery,” Williams said.
For many businesses, the biggest obstacle continues to be a lack of access to credit, the SBA has previously said. The aggregate value of small business loans held by depository institutions declined by 6.2% from $695.2 billion in 2009 to $652.2 billion in 2010.
The depository institutions tracked included banks, cooperative banks, savings banks, and savings and loan associations. Credit unions were not included. However, the agency did recently release a report on how credit unions stepped in to fill business lending voids left by banks over a 24-year period.
For many credit unions, business loans under the $1 million are considered a sweet spot. However, in 2009, micro loans, which are defined as $100,000 or less, experienced the most severe decline compared with other loan size categories among the financial institutions tracked, the SBA said.
The value of micro loans made by these lenders was $73.3 billion in 2009, down 38.8% from the $119.7 billion in 2008. The number of micro loans declined by 43.1%, from 10.2 million in 2008 to 5.8 million in 2000. In comparison, the value and number of macro loans, defined $100,000 to $1 million, were down 24.4% and 20.0%, respectively.
Commercial real estate and construction and industrial small business loans outstanding declined by 8.0% and 4.1%, respectively in 2009 and 2010. The largest dollar volume decline was in loans of $250,000 to $1 million, according to the SBA. CRE loans of this size were down by $17.9 billion, which represented more than 60% of the overall decline in this lending category. Commercial and industrial loans of $250,000 to $1 million dropped by $12.0 billion, which was nearly 90% of the total decline here.
Of significant note was the largest percentage decline was in CRE loans of $100,000 or less, down more than 16%. The SBA said the decline was partially offset by a 2% increase C&I loans of $100,000 or less.
“Changes in financial markets, such as interest rate fluctuations and mergers of institutional depository lenders, are likely to have a negative impact on small firms and could affect their access to credit,” said Winslow Sargeant, SBA chief counsel for advocacy.
These issues should be closely monitored, Sargeant acknowledged. Further analysis is needed to assess the impact of small business borrowers moving from more traditional relationship lending with smaller lenders to factor lending opportunities with the larger lenders, he added.
Indeed, an uncertain economy has created an environment in which small business owners are reluctant to acquire more debt and lenders are cautious about extending more debt, the SBA noted. In the middle of it all, regulators are carefully watching the performance of all outstanding debt, the agency added.
What may be of most concern for small business borrowers is the share of total small business loans are held by the nation’s largest lenders, the SBA said. The largest two categories of lenders, those with assets exceeding $10 billion, held 48% of the total value of small business loans in 2010 and more than 76% of the total assets of these depository lenders.
Their small business loan share has remained relatively constant over the past two years. The most significant concentration of small business loans is in commercial and industrial micro loans, where these large lenders hold nearly 75% of the total value.
Sargeant said since small businesses are important to the national and local economy, their existence depends on their ability to access credit.
“Institutional depository lenders play a major role as suppliers of credit to small firms in the United States and have a key role in supporting the growth of these firms,” he reiterated.