Survey: Small biz lending restrained in Dec.

NEW YORK — Small businesses were still restrained in their borrowing in December as they awaited the outcome of tax and budget talks in Congress.

That’s the finding of a survey of small business lending released Monday by PayNet, a firm that provides credit ratings on small businesses. The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending index edged up to 112 from a revised 111.1 in November.

The cautious borrowing was in line with other reports on small business activity during December. Owners were waiting to see whether Congress would raise taxes and slash the federal budget. Lawmakers raised taxes on individuals earning at least $400,000, and couples earning at least $450,000. That affected some owners who report their business income on their personal tax returns. Lawmakers put off action on budget cuts until March.

The first economic reports for January show that businesses stepped up activity once Congress resolved the question of 2013 taxes. The government said Friday that employers added 157,000 jobs last month. And the Institute for Supply Management said its indexes of manufacturing and service sector activity both rose.

That may translate into more lending by small companies when PayNet issues its January report, due out in early March.

But the PayNet survey showed that borrowing was little changed over the course of 2012. In December 2011, its index stood at 110.5, giving it a gain of just 1.5 for the year.

Other surveys during 2012 showed that business owners were worried about the economy, the presidential election and the tax and budget talks in Washington. Many said they wouldn’t hire or expand because of the uncertainty.