Wells Fargo/Gallup survey: fewer small business owners expect difficulty obtaining credit in the year ahead

Second quarter business owner optimism moving in positive direction, strongest reading since Q3 2008

SAN FRANCISCO - April 30, 2012

Small business owners are finding it less difficult to obtain credit, according to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey (conducted April 2-6, 2012). Since the last survey in January, the number of small business owners who found it difficult to obtain credit in the past 12 months declined by 3 percentage points (from 33 to 30 percent). The number of business owners expecting difficulty securing credit over the coming 12 months fell by 6 percentage points (from 38 to 32 percent). This improved optimism about future credit availability contributed to the Small Business Index’s 8-point growth over last quarter from 15 to 23, and is the strongest Index score recorded since Q3 2008 when the Index was at positive 45.

When asked about the amount of debt they carry today compared with one year ago, 32 percent of business owners said they are carrying less debt, 20 percent are carrying more debt and 47 percent are carrying about the same amount of debt. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents expressed some level of comfort with the debt load they are carrying today, compared with 36 percent who are somewhat or very uncomfortable.

“The survey results are consistent with the deleveraging trend we’ve seen over the last two years among the small business owners we serve,” said Marc Bernstein, Wells Fargo’s Head of Small Business. “Many business owners who took on a significant amount of debt before or during the Great Recession have been focused on paying down existing debt and putting their business in a better position as the economy recovers.”

Thirty-nine percent of small business owners said they were able to obtain all the credit they required in the past year. Twenty percent said they were not able to obtain the credit they needed in the past year, and 38 percent of small business owners said they did not require credit.

Business owners use credit for a variety of business needs. The small business owners surveyed said having credit has (in order of most “yes” responses to least):

  • Made it easier to run your business on a daily basis (76 percent)
  • Helped your business to stay open (63 percent)
  • Allowed you to expand your products or services (57 percent)
  • Allowed you to take more risks (53 percent)
  • Made you a more profitable business (53 percent)
  • Helped with your payroll (33 percent)
  • Allowed you to hire (21 percent)

Looking ahead, 14 percent of small business owners said they planned to apply for new credit over the next year. Of those who planned to apply, responses were equally split between financing short-term needs, like operating expenses, and long-term needs like capital investments.

Small Business Index
Wells Fargo, together with Gallup, surveys small business owners quarterly across the nation to gauge their perceptions of their present situation (past 12 months) and future expectations (next 12 months) in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring, and credit availability.

The improvement in the overall Index this quarter was driven by increases in both the future expectations score (from positive 21 to positive 24) and an increase in the present situation score (from negative 6 to negative 1). Statistically significant improvements were seen in three of the six future expectations components:

  • Financial situation – Fewer (15 percent vs. 21 percent in Q1 2012) expect their company’s financial situation to be very or somewhat poor over the next 12 months.
  • Cash flow – Fewer (18 percent vs. 23 percent in Q1 2012) expect their cash flow to be very or somewhat poor
  • Credit access –Fewer (32 percent vs. 38 percent in Q1 2012) expect credit to be very or somewhat difficult to obtain

Index Scores: Q2 2011 – Q2 2012

Overall Index Score Present Situation Future Expectations
Q2 2012 (surveyed April 2012) 23 -1 24
Q1 2012 (surveyed January 2012) 15 -6 21
Q4 2011 (surveyed October 2011) -3 -11 8
Q3 2011 (surveyed July 2011) 0 -10 10
Q2 2011 (surveyed April 2011) 0 -14 14

A recorded podcast with Wells Fargo Senior Economist, Dr. Scott Anderson, is available on the Small Business Index section of Wells Fargo’s Business Insight Resource Center at www.wellsfargobusinessinsights.com/small-business-index. Listen and download complete survey results.

About the Small Business Index
Since August 2003, the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index has surveyed small business owners on current and future perceptions of their business financial situation. The Index consists of two dimensions: 1) Owners’ ratings of the current situation of their businesses and, 2) Owners’ ratings of how they expect their businesses to perform over the next 12 months.

Results are based on telephone interviews with 603 small business owners in all 50 United States conducted April 2-6, 2012. The overall Small Business Index is computed using a formula that scores and sums the answers to 12 questions — six about the present situation and six about the future. An Index score of zero indicates that small business owners, as a group, are neutral -- neither optimistic nor pessimistic -- about their companies’ situations. The overall Index can range from -400 (the most negative score possible) to +400 (the most positive score possible), but in practice spans a much more limited range. The margin of sampling error is +/- four percentage points.

About Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.3 trillion in assets. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance through more than 9,000 stores, 12,000 ATMs, the Internet (wellsfargo.com), and other distribution channels across North America and internationally. With more than 270,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in America. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 23 on Fortune’s 2011 rankings of America’s largest corporations. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.

Wells Fargo is America’s #1 small business lender (2010 Community Reinvestment Act government data) and a leading lender to women- and diverse-owned businesses. Wells Fargo provides a wide range of financial solutions to meet the needs of business owners nationwide. Through the Wells Fargo Business Insight Resource Center, business owners can access an informative selection of videos and articles featuring expert advice and best practices. For more information visit wellsfargo.com/biz or call the National Business Banking Center at 1-800-CALL-WELLS.

About Gallup
For more than 70 years, Gallup has been a recognized leader in the measurement and analysis of people’s attitudes, opinions and behavior. While best known for the Gallup Poll, founded in 1935, Gallup’s current activities consist largely of providing marketing and management research, advisory services and education to the world’s largest corporations and institutions.

Note: Complete survey results available upon request or by visiting www.wellsfargobusinessinsights.com/small-business-index.

Jen Hibbard