Insights Commercial Pulse Report – January 16th, 2024

Interest rate changes coming; commercial credit demand continues

January 16, 2024 by Marsha Silverman

Small business owners’ optimism remains low due to concerns about the economy and credit conditions. According to the NFIB survey, business owners do not expect current business conditions to improve in the coming months and report that financing is their top business problem. Stringent credit underwriting policies are creating an environment where owners’ current borrowing needs
are not met.

According to the Federal Reserve’s SLOOS report, many lenders were loosening credit policies in mid-2022, making credit readily available to small business owners. As inflation and interest rates began to rise, commercial credit delinquencies began to increase at a rapid pace and lenders tightened credit underwriting criteria to mitigate accelerated risk. It appears that efforts have worked. Across most commercial credit financial products, the increase in delinquency rates slowed over the past few months. The loans originated under the tighter underwriting is proving to be lower risk. At the same time, account closures have increased suggesting that high risk default accounts are being removed from lenders portfolio’s thus leveling late-stage delinquency curves.

As observed in the commercial credit cards space, late-stage delinquencies are leveling out. Lenders continue to issue commercial cards to lower-risk borrowers and while the average loan/line amount for all other financial products has been decreasing month over month, commercial card limits have increased. Monthly lower risk commercial card originations coupled with monthly high risk commercial card account closures is in part slowing and leveling late-stage delinquency rates in the commercial credit market.

The commercial credit market could shift in 2024. As reported in the SLOOS survey, while lenders are still tightening credit, fewer of them tightened in Q4 2023. If the economy can achieve a “soft-landing” rather than go into recession, lenders will be even more likely to loosen credit standards. The Federal Reserve is expected to start reducing interest rates in 2024, thereby making borrowing
more affordable.

According to the December NFIB survey, business owners are planning capital outlays, increases in inventory, increases in hiring in the coming months but require commercial credit to do so. These business expansions will rely on the availability of credit.