Exclusive: U.S. business-loan delinquencies rise

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Small and medium-sized U.S. businesses seeking to finance capital equipment showed further signs of distress in November as loans more than six months past due rose for the 22nd consecutive month, PayNet Inc reported on Monday.

A pedestrian walks past an empty storefront on Main Street in Evansville, Indiana November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Accounts behind 180 days or more, and unlikely ever to be paid, rose to 0.91 percent in November from 0.87 percent in October, according to PayNet, which provides risk-management tools to the commercial lending industry.

It was the 22nd consecutive monthly increase in loans so far in arrears they ultimately may have to be written off by lenders.

Accounts in moderate delinquency, or those behind by 30 days or more, rose in November to 4.33 percent from 4.19 percent in October, according to PayNet.

That ended a three-month stretch where moderate delinquencies had fallen, a trend that fueled hopes prospects were improving for small businesses, which led the broader economy into the past two recessions and are widely regarded as the best hope for job creation in any recovery.

But accounts 90 days or more behind in payment, or in severe delinquency, improved modestly in November, slipping to 1.40 percent from 1.43 percent in October. It was the fourth consecutive improvement in the measurement.

That was not the only glimmer of light in PayNet’s monthly report. The company’s Small Business Lending Index, which measures the overall volume of financing, fell just 11 percent year-over-year in November.

While that indicates that lenders remain reluctant to extend credit to small and medium-sized businesses, it was the smallest decline in the index since the recession began.

“We’re not out of this slump yet,” said Bill Phelan, president and founder of Skokie, Illinois-based PayNet.

“But the year-over-year decline in the small-business lending index is smallest so far in this downturn and continues an encouraging trend line. From January through May, the index was falling 25 to 33 percent. And then from June to October, we saw moderating declines of 16 to 21 percent. So 11 percent is really another step in the right direction.”

PayNet’s report kicks off a week that will be heavy with economic data, including the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing survey on Monday, December car sales on Tuesday, December retail sales figures on Thursday and December nonfarm payroll data on Friday.

Editing by Steve Orlofsky