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Now, a promising sign on the road to economic recovery. A big reason that recovery here in the U.S. has been so slow is that the nation's battered banks haven't been able or willing to lend. But NPR's John Ydstie reports now on signs that that's changing, and that bank lending is helping to support stronger growth.
JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Paul Kasriel, chief economist at Northern Trust, a Chicago-based bank, says his reading of Federal Reserve data has convinced him that banks have finally taken the baton from the Fed and are now making credit more available.
PAUL KASRIEL: We've seen a sharp increase in business loans on the books of banks.
YDSTIE: And he says consumers are getting more credit, too.
KASRIEL: In fact, in January, we saw the strongest car and truck sales since, I believe, May of 2008 and one of the explanations was that credit was now beginning to flow to households again.
YDSTIE: Kasriel says he believes it's because banks have cleared many of their bad loans and strengthened their capital, their cushion against losses. Jim Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers' Association, agrees.
JIM CHESSEN: Problem loans are being quickly put behind the industry. They have the deposits to be able to make loans and the real issue is, you know, is there creditworthy businesses that are able to borrow now and willing to borrow?
YDSTIE: Craig Carrel's company, Team 1 Plastics, based in Albion, Michigan, is one such firm.
CRAIG CARREL: Business is great right now. The best it's been since the fall of '08.
YDSTIE: Team 1 Plastics make injection molded components that show up in vehicles produced by the big three U.S. auto companies and Japanese and German car makers, too. The recovery of the auto industry has boosted business so much that Team 1 asked Bank of America to boost the line of credit it uses to finance its operations.
Carrel says the requests have been tentatively approved, along with a loan for some new equipment.
CARREL: I think we have a good story and I think part of what helped us for additional credit is the brighter outlook, especially in automotive.
YDSTIE: Dan Thystrup's company, Adventureglass, has not been as lucky. The firm makes paddleboats out of fiberglass for places like Sea World and Disney World.
DAN THYSTRUP: Our main product is paddleboats that looks like ducks and swans and pirate ships and things like that.
YDSTIE: The company's revenues have fallen from about a million dollars a year before the recession to about half that now. Still, Thystrup says he needs to replace an old factory building and that requires getting a loan.
THYSTRUP: And we worked on it a little bit with our bank and they were not very interested in doing anything for us.
YDSTIE: Thystrup says U.S. sales are soft and foreign sales to places like Kuwait and India are what's keeping Adventureglass afloat. As a result, he says, just renewing the credit line with his bank late last year was an ordeal. Another strike against Thystrup may be that his main collateral is real estate, including his home and business buildings.
William Dennis of the National Association(ph) of Independent Businesses says that's hurting the creditworthiness of lots of small firms.
WILLIAM DENNIS: Small firms own a ton of real estate and a lot of that's being used for collateral and a lot of that real estate is still not doing well at all.
YDSTIE: Dennis says a recent NFIB survey of 850 small firms shows an increase in demand for credit last year, but no increase in the number of bank loans received. However, data from the Federal Reserve suggests banks are loosening their purse strings, that they are identifying more creditworthy borrowers and that more businesses and consumers are gaining the confidence to borrow again.
John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.
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