A small-business lending program backed by the federal government showed some signs of an uptick in February.
The Small Business Administration said 52 of the loans, called 7(a) loans, were originated in February in the Buffalo-Rochester market. That was up by 11 percent from the 47 originated a year ago.
But the combined dollar volume of those loans was $8.3 million, down by 47 percent from $15.8 million in February 2013.
Under the program, the government provides guarantees for up to 85 percent of the loan principal. It is designed to help businesses that might otherwise have difficulty obtaining loans, by giving the banks more confidence to lend to them.
M&T Bank Corp. was the heavyweight in the SBA program for February. It originated 24 of the loans, compared with 23 a year ago. None of the other 22 participating institutions originated more than three.
“We do seem to have lately a growing pipeline of interest, applicants and approvals,” said Alfred F. Luhr III, M&T’s senior vice president for business banking in Buffalo.
The combined value of M&T’s loans under the program for the month was $2.1 million, second-highest after Wyoming County-based Lyons National Bank’s $2.46 million. M&T’s total was far below the $8.3 million in volume that it reported last February.
The SBA program’s current year began last October, with the start of the federal fiscal year. And that year began with a partial government shutdown, which banks said got the lending program off to a slow start, delaying the approval process and creating uncertainty among potential customers.
The program’s numbers for the Buffalo-Rochester market lagged for the first five months of the fiscal year. From October through February, the number of loans declined by 5.4 percent from the same period last year, to 245, and the combined volume dropped by 17 percent, to $47.2 million. When the figures for March are added, the fiscal year will have reached the halfway point.
Three area banks – M&T, First Niagara Financial Group and Five Star Bank – are generating the greatest number of the program’s loans. In the five-month span, they accounted for 64 percent of the total. M&T and First Niagara combined had 41 percent of the dollar volume for the five months. M&T’s $10.2 million led the list.
Luhr said M&T’s average loan size under the program has increased in comparison to recent years. Customers are applying for loans for everything from launching and growing their businesses to buying inventories, expanding facilities and buying new equipment.
“We’re really happy with last month,” Luhr said, “and we’re just trying to keep it going.”