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NEEDHAM, Mass. — With consumer lending, residential mortgages, and commercial real estate volumes declining, U.S. banks are quickly shifting their lending focus to small businesses, a segment that has been growing steadily for the past five years, a new study revealed.

TowerGroup found that U.S. small business loan balances increased at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 7% between 2001 and 2005. In addition, small business loan volume grew at a rate of 14.3% from 2001 to 2005, with most of the growth occurring with loans under $100,000.

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