Richard TurnerThere is much discussion at the moment about the Banks not willing to lend to SME’s. Government has proposed to help SME’s by subsidising loans to the tune of £20 billion. This will reduce the interest rate on loans made by participating banks by 1%. Is this likely to stimulate the SME economy?

The answer I am afraid is not by much. Our worms eye view at Catalyst is that the problem is not the cost of debt but the absence of debt. There is in effect a binary problem. If your project leaps the banks hurdles then you get the finance if it fails then you don’t. The problem is the that the bar has got higher and higher – what was sensible and fundable in 2005 now fails absolutely – not because the outcomes are different but because of a climate of fear .

I am not arguing for a return to the wild and woolly days merely that the cost of debt needs to reflect the risk of the project. Banks used to pride themselves that they understood risk  and could price it.  There even used to be what was called mezzanine debt which ranked below senior debt but above equity.

This finance would have interest rates of 15% with an equity kicker. Risk is not binary – often projects do not fail in an absolute sense: the investors may have to wait for a long time to get their money back; debt may have to be rescheduled. Debt providers need to re-learn how to price risk and be more creative with financial instruments.

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