The figures for January to March showed a shortfall of 12% against the £19bn that represents a quarter of the annual £76bn target agreed with the government under the Project Merlin scheme for lending to smaller businesses.
Only 16% of FSB members had approached banks for credit and 44% of those had been refused, including some seeking credit to fulfil firm orders.
Growing businesses need working capital to fund the goods, materials, marketing and staff for new growth. While some of that can be obtained by borrowing against the sales ledger (through factoring and invoice discounting), the banks are seeing them as too high risk.
This is actually a reasonable response by the banks where businesses have been clinging on by their fingernails since the 2008 recession and, having used up most of their working capital on paying down old loans, are therefore according to the bank models seen as at high risk of insolvency.
It is a vicious circle. Less working capital means businesses neither have sufficient funds to buy materials to fulfil orders nor are they adequately capitalised to justify new loans. This is why it is very common for businesses to go bust when growth returns following a recession.
Once banks are realising that a company with outstanding debt is in difficulty, they are providing for the bad debt by adjusting their own capital ratios to cushion against increased risk and in anticipation of the new Basel lll rules requiring bank Tier 1 capital holdings (equity + retained earnings) to rise from 2% to 7% to be phased in from 2015 to 2018.
The result is higher fees and higher interest rates to businesses and it is no surprise that some companies already seen as a bad risk cannot borrow money, even when orders are rising.
Businesses that have used their land and buildings to secure loans or mortgages may also face huge risk related costs due to the bank’s exposure because banks already have so much commercial property as security that cannot be either leased or sold. The bank will therefore impose penal fees in a bid to recover the provisioning costs.
It has never been more urgent for businesses to mitigate this catch 22 by calling on expert help to look at fundamental solutions and recognise they will not be able to borrow money to limp along as they have been for the last two years.