Eurozone SMEs say credit easier to find than clients

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Small and medium-sized eurozone businesses say getting bank loans has become a little easier but finding customers has become harder, in a survey released on Wednesday by the European Central Bank.

"According to the survey's results, euro area SMEs' external financing needs increased slightly between September 2010 and February 2011," an ECB statement said.

"At the same time, the survey results show that access to bank loans continued to improve, albeit moderately," it added.

The poll of more than 7,500 firms was done in late February and early March by the ECB on behalf of the European Commission, and provided detail on the eurozone's economic situation.

The Commission estimates at present that economic activity will expand by 1.6 percent this year, but warns growth will be uneven across the 17-nation area.

As in the previous six-month round, the survey found that slightly more SMEs reported a gain in sales between September 2010 and February 2011 than those that suffered declines, but a strong net percentage also saw profits decline.

In particular, "recent hikes in oil and commodity prices have heightened input cost pressures," while the cost of labour had risen as well, the report said.

As for their biggest problem, "about a quarter of survey respondents replied 'finding customers'. This was slightly less than in previous survey rounds," it added.

© 2011 AFP

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