Small Business Financing Post-Crisis

Michael Sykuta —  9 March 2011

Tomorrow I will be attending a symposium on small business financing sponsored by the Entrepreneurial Business Law Journal‘s at the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University. I’m on a panel entitled “Recessionary Impacts on Equity Capital,” which is a bit misleading–or at least a bit different that the topic I offered to speak on, which is the effect of the recession and recent financial crisis on small business financing more generally. The rest of the day includes presentations governmental and policy responses to the crisis and practical implications of constricted capital. A copy of the schedule and list of speakers is available. I’m not very familiar with any of the other panelists, but the luncheon address will be given by Al Martinez-Fonts, Executive Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

I’m going to focus on a few basic points and highlight some of the myths around small businesses and small business financing that drives poor policy. My first objective is to lay out a simple framework for thinking about financing deals, or any deal for that matter. Namely, the idea that every transaction involves allocations of value, uncertainty and decision rights; and the deal itself provides structure on those allocations by specifying the incentive systems, performance measures and decision rights that address both parties’ interests. How those structures are designed determine the nature of risk exposure and incentive conflicts that may affect the ex post value and performance of the deal.

In a sense, there is nothing new in small business financing post-crisis.  The fundamentals are the same. There is a multitude of contractual terms to address the various kinds of incentive issues and uncertainties that exist in the current market environment. To the extent there is anything truly unique about the current context, they are less about the financial market itself than about broader regulatory and economic issues. For example, much of the uncertainty affecting credit-worthiness have to do with economic and cash flow uncertainties stemming from upheavals in the regulatory landscape for small businesses, including health care. Uncertainty concerning implementation of financial market reforms passed in July 2010 create uncertainties for lenders. These uncertainties exacerbate the usual economic uncertainties of new and small businesses during an economic recovery period.

During the recession itself, “stimulus” spending distorted the credit-worthiness of small businesses in industries that were more directly benefited by government handouts and by the security provided small businesses that supply large, publicly-administered and guaranteed businesses (such as in the auto industry).  Thus, federal and state economic policy to “create jobs” in some sectors distorted the incentives to lend to different groups of small businesses, likely reducing employment in other sectors.

Finally, I’m going to suggest that talking about “small business” financing is a misnomer if we are truly motivated by a care of job creation. A recent paper by John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and Javier Miranda illustrates that business size is not the key determinant of job creation in the US, as is often argued in the media and policy circles. (HT: Peter Klein at O&M) They find that it is young firms, which happen to be small, not small firms in general that provide the job creation. Ironically, these young firms are also the ones for whom financing is most difficult due to the nascent stage of development and uncertainty. Thus, policies directed to firms based on size alone further distort capital availability from other (larger) companies that are equally likely to create jobs. Since this distortion is not costless, the policies are not welfare-neutral by simply switching where jobs are created, but likely to reduce welfare overall.

So now you don’t need to rush to Columbus, Ohio, to hear what I’ll have to say–unless you want to see the fireworks in person. But now you’ll know what’s going on in case there is news of more upset around the horse shoe in Columbus.