A small-business lending program supported by the federal government wrote more, smaller loans last month.
A total of 76 of the 7(a) loans were originated in April in the Buffalo-Rochester market, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to the Small Business Administration. But the dollar volume of those loans dropped 6.5 percent from April 2013, to $11.5 million.
Through the first seven months of the federal fiscal year, which began last October, the number of loans was down 2.3 percent from the same period a year ago. That gap has narrowed, after the fiscal year got off to a slow start due to a partial government shutdown last October.
But the dollar value of the loans is still significantly behind. Through seven months, the total was $66.9 million, down 18 percent from $82 million a year ago.
Franklin J. Sciortino, the SBA’s Buffalo district director, said he was “encouraged” by the April figures, especially after the weak start several months ago. As for the dropoff in dollar volume, Sciortino said that could be due to more customers applying for smaller loans, after fees were eliminated on SBA-supported loans of $150,000 or less.
The monthly and fiscal year figures provide a glimpse of trends in a segment of small-business lending. Under the 7(a) 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 remains the dominant player in the program in the Buffalo-Rochester market. Its 24 loans during April accounted for almost 32 percent of the loans originated for the month, and its dollar volume of $3.4 million represented nearly 30 percent of the monthly total.
Alfred Luhr III, M&T’s senior vice president for business banking, said a few factors are at work.
A year ago, Luhr said, M&T had four loans in the program during the first half of the year that were each funded for more than $1 million. That skewed last year’s numbers higher, he said.
Luhr also noted that the national economy slowed in the first quarter, as reflected in Gross Domestic Product data. Some of that slowdown could have stemmed from harsh winter weather, he said.
And small-business loan demand has varied by sector, he said. For instance, M&T has seen strong activity in the construction sector, with all the projects under way in the region. But a sector such as medical services has been “a little erratic because of all the uncertainty surrounding the national implementation of the new health care financing programs,” he said.
Five Star Bank originated the second-most loans during April, followed by First Niagara Bank.
M&T was also the program’s clear leader through the first seven months of the fiscal year, accounting for 33 percent of the loans and 24 percent of the dollar volume in the Buffalo-Rochester region. First Niagara was second in both categories,.