U.S. small businesses boosted borrowing in March, signaling a renewal of confidence in growth prospects after an unusually harsh winter crimped investment.
The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the volume of financing to small companies, rose to 115 in March from 111.6 in February, PayNet said on Wednesday.
It was the first monthly gain since December, and marked an 18 percent increase from a year earlier.
The year-on-year increase, the biggest in more than two years, reflects more optimism among small business owners and "signals some continued strengthening" for the U.S. economy overall, PayNet founder Bill Phelan said.
After stumbling badly in the first quarter, the U.S. economy appears set for a rebound, with economists predicting that growth this quarter will come in at an annualized rate of 3 percent or more.
Federal Reserve policymakers are set to wrap up a two-day meeting on Wednesday with a decision to continue reducing the U.S. central bank's bond-buying stimulus at a measured pace, reflecting their expectations that despite increasing momentum the economy still needs plenty of support.
A separate index released by PayNet showed loan delinquencies only slightly above recent record lows. Delinquencies of 31-to-180 days, PayNet's broadest measure of late loan payments, ticked up to 1.48 percent of all loans made.
The index hit a high of 4.73 percent in August 2009. The record low was 1.44 percent last October.
PayNet collects real-time loan information such as originations and delinquencies from more than 250 leading U.S. lenders.
(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Leslie Adler)