Credit Line Utilization Ticks Higher

Commercial credit line utilization is at its highest rate since 2009, say the banks, and it's not due to companies desperate for cash.
Katie Kuehner-HebertApril 17, 2015

More businesses are tapping their bank lines of credit to levels not seen since before the height of the financial crisis in 2009, according to a Reuters story.

“Confidence is back,” Laura Obers, Wells Fargo’s head of commercial banking for the Midwest region, told Reuters. “It’s fragile still, but stronger than I’ve seen it since the meltdown of 2008.”

In Bank of America’s first-quarter earnings conference call, chief financial officer Bruce Thompson said the company’s core commercial clients are drawing more on their lines for expansion, “almost exclusively outside of the energy space, so it has nothing to do with anything distressed.”

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“Those numbers bottomed out in the low 30s and they are now up in the high 30s,” Thompson said, referring to the average percentage of a credit line that businesses are tapping.

“Think of that, when we say commercial, that is middle-market, general middle-market for us. Not the corporate bank where the energy exposure would be,” chief executive Brian Moynihan added. “It is back to basically where it was, not the highest point because it ran up right before the crisis, but if you look back, it is higher than it was in 2004 and 2005 at this point, or right on it. So you’re starting to see a normalization of that borrowing, which is good news because that means that people are borrowing the money to do something.”

JPMorgan Chase CFO Marianne Lake told Reuters that the company posted the highest commercial credit utilization rate since 2009, with corporate borrowers now using 34% of their credit lines, up 2.8 percentage points from a year earlier and 4 percentage points higher than in all of 2013.

Still, corporate capital spending growth has been uneven, according to Reuters, which cited wild fluctuations on equipment expenditures for each quarter of 2014 — ranging from a contraction of 1% to growth of 11.2%.

In addition, companies don’t often use credit lines to finance long-term investment. Instead, they use them during times of a cash shortfall for day-to-day operating expenses, such as meeting payroll or purchasing supplies.