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Archive for Monday, July 27, 2009

Economic downturn taking toll on small businesses

July 27, 2009

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Chris Sakelarios, left, talks with her business partner Eric Geedey last week at Caffe Sportivo in Redwood City, Calif. Sakelarios opened Caffe Sportivo after taking out a $20,000 Small Business Administration loan from Union Bank in late 2007. Within a year, however, she was staying afloat with the help of a landlord and vendors who let her adjust payments.

Chris Sakelarios, left, talks with her business partner Eric Geedey last week at Caffe Sportivo in Redwood City, Calif. Sakelarios opened Caffe Sportivo after taking out a $20,000 Small Business Administration loan from Union Bank in late 2007. Within a year, however, she was staying afloat with the help of a landlord and vendors who let her adjust payments.

— As the effects of the economic collapse began pouring down Main Street, the government last year was left holding a record $2.1 billion in write-offs of small business loans it had guaranteed. Officials expect the number of defaults to rise as the nation continues to climb out of the recession.

Records obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act show the public is paying to offset bank losses on small business loans across the country, from a convenience store in the tiny Canadian border town of Houlton, Maine, to a graphic arts design company on the island of Hawaii, more than 5,000 miles away.

Despite having loans written off, little companies such as Caffe Sportivo, an espresso shop and small gym in Redwood City, Calif., are barely scraping by.

“I just couldn’t make any payments. I was barely making rent or payroll,” owner Chris Sakelarios said on a recent afternoon when her cafe stood empty except for two patrons who read as they sipped coffee. “The same as everyone else. We’re in a hovering pattern.”

Not ‘too big to fail’

It’s a sign that even as record profits re-emerge on Wall Street, thanks to massive government loans and guarantees for banks deemed too big to fail, the pain on Main Street is as profound as it’s been in half a century. The companies that were not too big to fail are failing.

Their plight is a shift from previous recessions when small business bounced back ahead of big employers, said Todd McCracken, president of the lobby group National Small Business Association.

“This could be the first economic recovery we’ve seen in a long time that hits small business the hardest, the longest,” he said.

The Small Business Administration purchased $2.1 billion in bad loans from lenders last year. Agency officials say it’s likely that this year will see another high as the recession nears the two-year mark.

“It’s frustrating when (banks) are getting bailed out for bad decisions they made, that there isn’t more assistance for the small business,” said Eric Geedey, who manages Caffe Sportivo for Sakelarios.

Sakelarios obtained a $20,000 SBA loan from Union Bank in late 2007 to start her business when the economic outlook was brighter on the affluent San Francisco Peninsula. Within a year, however, she was scraping by with the help of a landlord and vendors who let her adjust payments. She has reduced the hours of her seven employees and relies on her brother and a friend to help keep the doors open on weekends. The balance of the loan was written off in early January.

In addition to being dogged by bad credit, the cafe will have to report the loan charge-off as taxable income, Geedey said.

Sakelarios isn’t the only recession victim, and she won’t be the last.

Loan defaults

SBA loan defaults generally occur in two stages. The first is when the bank decides it won’t get its money back and asks the government for the guaranteed portion of the loan. In the second, the government decides it won’t get any more collateral or money from the borrower.

Years can elapse between the time that the borrower stops paying and the government writes off the loan.

In 2008, for example, the government concluded it wouldn’t be able to recover $1.3 billion in defaulted bank loans it had guaranteed. Many loans were part of a backlog, according to SBA officials.

But an AP analysis found that the time between loan approvals and loan defaults is narrowing. According to the analysis:

• More than $235 million in restaurant loans have been charged off since 2007. The 2,586 restaurant charge-offs make up the largest number of defaulted loans, according to the SBA. More than 150 loans made to Quiznos franchises — worth nearly $15.5 million — have been written off since 2007.

• The Gulf Coast fishing industry, battered by two major hurricanes in 2005, has been hit especially hard. Half of the 10 cities with the highest industry-specific write-offs are in Biloxi, Miss.; New Orleans; Ocean Springs, Miss.; Lafayette, La.; and Abbeville, La. All told, the shellfish fishing industry had 45 loans charged off, at a total cost of $19.5 million.

• The banks making the loans have also been hit hard by the recession. Bank of America Corp., which has received $52.5 billion in government aid, has had nearly 7,000 loans worth $238 million charged off since 2007. More than 660 loans worth $174 million have been charged off by CIT Group Inc., a major commercial lender forced to turn to bondholders in an effort to try to avoid bankruptcy protection after the government refused to save the company.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., which repaid $25 billion in taxpayer loans last month, has written off nearly 2,300 loans worth $117 million.

“I have never seen it as rough as it is right now,” said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, a business advocacy group.

Impact on jobs

Small businesses account for half of all private-sector workers and have created roughly half of the nation’s jobs over the past decade. They received some help from the $787 billion federal stimulus package in February, including higher microlending amounts and federal loan guarantees. Congress also authorized the U.S. Treasury to purchase $15 billion in pooled loans to encourage lenders to provide money to small companies. The SBA recently announced it will guarantee short-term bank loans to help small businesses pay off existing bills.

The White House has floated a proposal to take money from a $700 billion bailout of the financial system and provide small companies with working capital, allowing them to add inventory and employees. If it happens, the White House said, help might arrive by fall.

That’s too late for thousands of defunct companies with shuttered windows, disconnected phones and broken dreams.

Comments

kansasmutt 5 years, 1 month ago

They save Big Corp America , but let Mom & Pop go down the crapper. I say give small business new low interst loans and some time to start paying them back. Small businesses are the backbone of this nation, they fail and we fail. Keep this in mind next time you go to the big box store. Support small local businesses Please. Your future depends on it !!!!! Those big Corp stores pay for those lobbyist to get that money and not get it back to Main Street America. Whem mom and Pop fail, youl be stuck with nothing but Chinese crap and crap built like crap.Is that what you want ?????????

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