CHICAGO Global lending giants Chase and Citi said they substantially increased loans to U.S. small businesses last year.
Chase said its small business loans rose to $17 billion in 2011, up 52 percent from 2010.
Citi said it lent $7.9 billion to small companies last year, an increase of more than 30 percent from the prior year and exceeding its previous commitment of $7 billion. Since the start of the economic downturn in late 2008, many small businesses have been struggling to get loans, lines of credit and other financing.
But a monthly poll of small business sentiment released January 10 by the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group, said small businesses' access to credit ranked at the bottom of respondents' concerns, with only 4 percent of owners reporting financing as their primary business problem.
Chase, which says it leads in U.S. Small Business Administration loans by volume, provided nearly 400,000 new loans and lines to small companies last year. For the past three years, the company exceeded annual small business lending commitments.
Last fall it pledged to maintain elevated lending volumes through at least 2013.
"Since 2009, we have provided more than $35 billion in working capital, term loans for expansion, commercial mortgages, lines of credit and business credit cards to small businesses," said Scott Geller, Chase's CEO of business banking, in a statement accompanying the lending figures Jan. 19.
In September 2011, Citi committed to lending $24 billion to small businesses over the course of three years. Its progressive increases call for lending to reach $9 billion annually in 2013.
"We made it easier for customers to apply for credit by offering less paperwork and an improved customer experience," said Raj Seshadri, Citi's head of U.S. Small Business, in the company's prepared statement, also released Jan. 19.
"Over the last year we tripled originations and increased credit application approvals substantially."
(Reporting by Deborah L. Cohen; Editing by Carla Tonelli)