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SMBs More Optimistic, But Still Scared To Borrow

Small business owners are more optimistic about the economic outlook than a year ago, but lack of customer demand and anxiety about solvency keeps a majority from pursuing additional credit.
Small business owners are more optimistic about the economic outlook than a year ago, but lack of customer demand and anxiety about solvency keeps a majority from pursuing additional credit.With the Senate making progress late yesterday on a $15 billion jobs bill, the talk inside the Beltway has a tinge of optimism about the economic prospects for businesses. Looking specifically at small businesses, there's also a bit of hope about the economic outlook. According to the American Express OPEN Economic Pulse survey, there is more optimism than a year ago. Conducted from January 28 - February 1, the results of this survey [PDF] of small business owners indicate 43% of business owners believe the economy will improve over the next 12-18 months. A year ago, only 30% took that view.

A significant uptick in optimism doesn't overshadow widespread concern however. The survey found that 38% rank a prolonged recession or double dip as their greatest economic anxiety and 68% admit that the economy stresses them out. After general economic conditions, the second biggest cause of economic anxiety is high unemployment (32%) and based on other survey findings, the Senate jobs bill isn't likely to address that issue (see Customers, Not Stimulus, Spur SMB Hiring).

And despite stories about high demand for small business lending exhausting stimulus finds, these survey findings indicate that the continued tightness of small business credit may be as much demand as supply. 59% of those surveyed have not pursued new credit in the past 6 months. Only 11% indicated that attempts to secure new credit have been rebuffed and 13% did have a credit line reduced, yet 9% indicated they've been granted new credit.

The answer to why almost two thirds of the small business owners surveyed aren't pursuing new credit split into several buckets. 33% indicate the business is generating sufficient cash flow not need additional credit, 30% say that demand for products and services is so low that additional debt isn't worth the risk, and 22% voice concern about bankruptcy or default.

Don't Miss Plan B: An SMB's Guide To Making Do During The Recession.


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