CIT = more bad news for small business

Just when it looked like President Obama was making some headway with small business, along comes the CIT bankruptcy train to derail everything.

Last Thursday, on Obama’s urging, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new legislation that authorized more than $40 billion for loans backed by the Small Business Administration. It was the relief U.S. small businesses had been hoping for. But just 72 hours later the good news was tempered when CIT Group Inc. – the SBA’s top lender – filed for bankruptcy protection. Now all that new federal money may be loaded onto a train missing its locomotive.

CIT’s failing could leave as many as a million small and medium-sized businesses looking elsewhere for credit in a marketplace where few banks are lending. According to the National Small Business Association, CIT lent $65 million in SBA-backed loans for the first six months of 2009; just 1 percent of all SBA loans issued. That figure was down dramatically over 2008, when CIT comprised 6 percent of the SBA total.

At a time when loan defaults by SMEs are rising and Equifax is reporting that small business bankruptcies are up 44 percent over last year, the CIT news is akin to a perfect storm for small business.

“It’s great that the stock market is coming back, but if you’re unemployed or you’re running a small business, the turnaround has not happened,” said Drew White, CFO for Sageworks Inc., which monitors the financial data of privately-held companies across 1,600 industries. Sageworks’s latest study found that since 2003 the debt-to-equity ratio decreased in the private sector, which might normally be a good thing, but according to White is likely the result of companies paying down debt and shrinking inventories due to slower sales and tightened credit in the recession. “It looks like there’s sort of a benchmark or a normal way that these businesses operate and they need a fair amount of borrowing capacity to do that and that has been restricted and constrained.”

Small business gets its bailout

(Note: The Recovery Act did not directly assign $15.5 billion in funds to the SBA, but $730 million that has so far supported $13.4 billion in SBA-backed loans to small businesses, according to the SBA.)

After having watched Wall Street get a near $1 trillion bailout, America’s reeling small businesses will get their own relief package from Uncle Sam, in the form of the “Small Business Financing and Investment Act” that was passed by the House of Representatives last night by a 389-to-32 majority vote.

The new legislation, which increases the Small Business Administration’s lending budget by $44 billion, was announced on a day when President Obama met with small business owners to discuss his proposals to improve their access to credit in order to boost job creation. The bill will still have to be approved by the Senate and there is no timetable for when the money will get into the hands of small business owners.

SBA announces new ARC loan guidelines

Today the U.S. Small Business Administration announced new lender guidelines for the America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) loan program it unveiled last month.

According to the SBA release, the ARC program provides emergency funds, in the forms of deferred loans, of up to $35,000 to “viable small businesses suffering immediate financial hardship.” These loans are not provided directly by the SBA, but through SBA-backed lenders – mostly smaller or community banks – and are 100 percent guaranteed by the government and have no lender fees attached.

The SBA defines a “viable” business as an “established, for-profit business with evidence of profitability or positive cash flow in at least one of the past two years.” The term “immediate financial hardship” is subsequently defined by the SBA as “evidence to show a change in the financial condition such as declining sales, frozen credit lines, difficulty meeting payroll, paying rent, difficulty making loan payments or perhaps something else.”

SBA channels Simon & Garfunkel with new lending program

Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills announced a new emergency lending program for struggling U.S. small businesses on Monday, calling it a “bridge over troubled water” for beleaguered entrepreneurs.

Under the new America’s Recovery Capital program, small businesses that meet assistance guidelines will be eligible for up to $35,000 in deferred-payment loans 100 percent guaranteed by the SBA.

According to the SBA: “This new program is intended to give small businesses some temporary financial relief to keep their doors open and get their cash flow back on track so they can maintain existing jobs and ultimately create new jobs.”