Betting on Economic Growth, Small Businesses Boost Borrowing

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By Ann Saphir

U.S. small businesses increased their borrowing in November from a year ago, suggesting continued economic growth ahead even as the Federal Reserve begins to reduce its massive monetary stimulus.

The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the volume of financing to small companies, rose 1 percent in November from a year earlier, to 111.4, PayNet said Thursday.

November, with just 20 working days, had the highest per-day borrowing rate of 2013, the data showed.

"It's another sign of continued expansion," PayNet founder Bill Phelan said. Small businesses "are seeing more demand for goods and services, and that's all good for GDP."

Small companies typically take out loans to buy new tools, factories and equipment, so more borrowing can be an early signal of increased hiring ahead.

Historically, PayNet's lending index has correlated to overall economic growth one or two quarters in the future.

The outlook for the job market, and for economic growth more broadly, %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%is crucial as the Fed begins a long-awaited reduction to its bond-buying program and weighs the economy's tolerance for subsequent cutbacks.

In December, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested the bond-buying program could be phased out completely in 2014.

A separate index showed small businesses have begun taking on slightly more risk, with delinquencies ticking up marginally from record lows.

Delinquencies of 31 to 180 days in November rose to 1.45 percent of all loans made, from 1.44 percent in October, according to the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Delinquency Index.

A measure of accounts overdue as a percentage of all loans hit a high of 4.73 percent in August 2009.

PayNet collects real-time loan information such as originations and delinquencies from more than 250 leading U.S. lenders.

Quiz: The Small Business Impact
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Betting on Economic Growth, Small Businesses Boost Borrowing

A. 50
B. 500
C. 1,500
D. 2,000

According to the Small Business Administration's size standards, the definition of small business varies widely, depending upon the industry that they work with. For example, petroleum refineries, ammunition manufacturers, and thirteen other businesses can qualify as "small businesses" if they have fewer than 1,500 employees.

A. $650,000
B. $950,000
C. $1 million
D. $35.5 million

Another way of looking at a company's size is its yearly income. For parking lots, industrial launderers, home centers and fourteen other businesses, yearly gross income of $35.5 million is the cut-off between a small business and a large one.

A. 50
B. 250
C. 750
D. 1,500

In the European Union, policymakers take the idea of small businesses at face value. According to the SME User Guide of the European Commission, a small business can have no more than 50 employees. Interestingly, this is also the cut-off line drawn by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

A. 5%
B. 20%
C. 43%
D. 57%

According to the Small Business Administration, a stunning 43% of all private payroll in the U.S. comes from small businesses. In other words, almost half of all privately-paid salaries come from small businesses, not big conglomerates.

A. 1%
B. 3%
C. 10%
D. 40%

Tax critics argue that increasing taxes on millionaires would cripple small businesses. In reality, however, only 3.31% of small business owners make $1 million or more per year. In fact, over 75% make less than $200,000 per year -- putting them well below the cut-off for President Obama's proposed tax increases.

Small businesses are a big part of the engine that propels the American economy -- study after study shows that they are the quickest to add jobs, the biggest growth sector of the economy, and a major contributor to GDP.

But are America's small businesses being used to sell its taxpayers a bill of goods? When huge airline manufacturers and home repair stores are getting many of the same benefits as the local mom and pop store, it's worth asking if we need to reconsider our small business standards -- and support the people who really need it.

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