Some light at the end of the tunnel on cost of credit?

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We put out our latest Credit Conditions Survey results today and spoke about it on Sky News - and there were some positive findings:

The balance of companies seeing an increase in the overall cost of credit falls to lowest level since 2007

Lower balance of companies reporting a rise in the cost of new borrowing

Improved responses on fees and rates on existing borrowing

Responses on availability of credit remain broadly stable

But we do also note some signs of more firms opting out of external finance altogether. This is a worry because we know from official statistics last week that our sector is bucking the economy's overall trend on investment - but it surely will be at a slower rate if its supported solely by internal finance.

Our survey started just after the financial crisis hit at the end of 2007. Since that time we have persistently had more companies say the cost of credit is increasing rather than decreasing and in general more companies saying the availability of finance is getting worse not better.

The availability balances started to turn more positive last year with the balance of companies finally switching to availability increasing. Since that time and again in this quarter's survey availability balances have been fairly stable.

On the cost side, the story has been pretty unrelentingly negative. Strong balances of companies have reported increases in the cost of credit - both in terms of interest rates but also fees and charges.

As a result we have made numerous comments over the last 18 months that the cost of credit needs to come down - especially for SMEs - to help support the flow of finance for business investments.

So there is no doubt that the cost story in this quarter's survey is a positive - the lowest balance of companies (11.2%) reporting an increase. In particular the fall in the balance of companies reporting an increase in the cost of new lines of borrowing is encouraging (8.5% down from 13.2% last quarter).

This is coincidental - not yet definitive - with government efforts to get the cost of credit down. The National Loan Guarantee Scheme was introduced in March and the new Funding for Lending Scheme took effect this month.

What remains to be done is targetting the creditworthy firms that have simply given up on accessing finance to support their investments - unfortunately companies that we hear from all too often.

A disturbing trend reinforced again in this quarter is the proportion of firms saying they don't need to borrow - despite manufacturing investment growing strongly. This has drifted up from the low 40s and at 50.5% is the equal highest proportion over the course of the survey. A slightly higher proportion of SMEs report themselves in this position (51.6%).

We need firms believing in our financial sector again - our economy needs every pound of investment it can get right now.

So while I think it's tentatively positive that the government's credit easing schemes MAY be having some impact on the cost of finance, what's important now is that the government makes a lot of noise about these schemes and strongly challenges banks and other providers to make clear to would-be borrowers what they can offer.

There's a lot riding on this - £80 billion isn't just going to borrow itself.


Media Team 020 7654 1576

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