Small US manufacturers investing at pre-recession levels: report

CHICAGO Wed May 1, 2013 3:37pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Small U.S. industrial companies invested in their plants and equipment at pre-recession levels as 2012 came to an end, according to a report from PayNet Inc on the money that manufacturers are borrowing to finance capital expenditures.

Whether the surge in investment by small manufacturers -- defined by PayNet as industrial companies with under $1 million in credit outstanding -- continued in 2013 is an open question.

The report released on Wednesday follows data showing the U.S. economy regained speed in the first quarter, but not as much as expected, heightening concerns the recovery is losing momentum.

PayNet said its quarterly manufacturing index, which measures loan, lease and line of credit originations by small manufacturing companies, returned in the fourth quarter of 2012 to levels last seen in 2006, led by a surge in borrowing by instrument makers and transportation equipment manufacturers.

The index, which uses 2006 as its base, rose to 100 in the quarter ending December 31, meaning overall financed investment by small manufacturers was back at levels last seen six years ago.

Instrument makers led the industrial pack, PayNet said, originating 23 percent more loans, leases and lines of credit in the final quarter of 2012 than they did in 2006.

Transportation equipment makers borrowed 12 percent more in the fourth quarter than they in 2006, PayNet said.

Makers of industrial machinery and equipment -- the biggest industrial subsector -- also bounced back as the year ended, with borrowing up 2 percent from pre-recession levels, PayNet said.

PayNet's report was released on the same day that the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said the pace of manufacturing growth in the United States slowed in April.

The ISM said its index of national factory activity fell to 50.7 from 51.3 in March, coming in below expectations for 50.9.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

But in a sign of potential resiliency, the forward-looking new orders component edged up to 52.3 from 51.4, while production improved to 53.5 from 52.2.

Skokie, Ill-based PayNet collects real-time loan information, such as originations and delinquencies, from more than 200 leading capital equipment lenders.

The Skokie, Ill-based company compiles data for the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, a monthly survey that measures the overall volume of financing to U.S. small businesses.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher)

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