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It's Time To Pay Attention To Commercial & Industrial Loans

January 13, 2020

Commercial and industrial loans (C&I loans) at all commercial banks fell to $2.33 trillion as of January 1, the lowest since March 2019, according to Federal Reserve data on commercial banks, released on Friday. C&I loans peaked in August last year at $2.38 trillion and have since fallen 1.7%. This has occurred despite three rate cuts by the Fed over the period.


C&I loans are used by businesses for working capital or to finance capital expenditures. Working capital loans are usually collateralized by receivables and inventories. Capital expenditure loans are collateralized by equipment and the like.


These loans are often credit lines with floating interest rates – which are very low and very appealing for borrowers. And banks are eager to extend these loans and are offering them aggressively, even to my little company. So there is no issue at this side of the equation.


But demand from businesses for these loans is a sign of economic activity, a sign that businesses are expanding or curtailing their activities. And demand is sinking.


The chart shows the year-over-year percentage change of these loan balances.


Note the relationship between the year-over-year declines (below the red line) and recessions. If loan demand suddenly bounces back over the next two or three months, I’d say the US economy has cleared this particular hurdle. But if the trend since August continues to go south and ends up in the -3% or worse neighborhood, a different scenario would emerge:


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