U.S. businesses and government agencies will finance more than $742 billion in equipment acquisitions in 2013, according to the U.S. Equipment Finance Market Study 2012-2013, released by the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation. The study, conducted by IHS, provides a comprehensive look at the size and expected growth of the U.S. equipment finance market.
According to the study, theequipment financesector has emerged from the Great Recession with finance volumes at an all-time high, as a result of double-digit growth in equipment investment and a favorable interest rate environment. However, equipment finance volumes are expected to expand at a more moderate pace over the next 12 to 18 months as equipment investment growth remains constrained by uncertainties at home and abroad. Companies are expected to remain cautious about taking on the risks associated with large capital investments until after important tax and regulatory decisions impacting short- and long-term fiscal stability have been made.
“This study reveals the importance of resolving political and regulatory uncertainty so businesses can feel more confident about their futures and invest in capital equipment and job creation,” said William G. Sutton, CAE, president of the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation.
In 2012, equipment finance volume returned to pre-recession levels, with the 2012 estimate for the equipment finance market expected to reach $725 billion.The market is expected to expand over the next two years; however, the growth rate is expected to slow.
Of the projected $1.3 trillion invested in plant, equipment and software in 2013, 55%, or $742 billion, of that investment is expected to be financed through loans, leases and lines of credit. In 2014, the market size is projected to grow to $778 billion.
Seventy-two percent of companies use some form of financing when acquiring equipment, including loans, leases and lines of credit (excluding credit cards). Companies with less than $1 million in revenues use financing in 49% of their equipment acquisitions, while companies with revenues between $25 million and $100 million use financing in 86% of their acquisitions, according to the study.
Companies with sales between $25 million and $100 million doubled their share of financing volume from 2006—when the Foundation’s first market-sizing study was conducted―to 2011. Companies with fewer than 51 employees also doubled their share equipment acquisition via financing in this time period. This may be in part a reflection of the difficulty in obtaining other forms of credit for these segments of the market.
Cash as a method of purchasing declined for large companies from 2007 to 2012 as larger companies enjoyed greater access to credit markets. In the current low-interest-rate environment, financing equipment acquisitions is especially attractive.
Corporate perceptions of the economic outlook are the primary driver behind equipment investment decisions. When presented with a list of potential factors that will drive future investment spending, companies surveyed by the Foundation overwhelmingly chose “general economic conditions.” The financing decisions of smaller companies are especially sensitive to general economic conditions.
Even with the relatively high degree of uncertainty over the economy and regulations/fiscal policy, nearly 30% of companies surveyed anticipatedincreasing their equipment investment over the next 12 months. This group of companies is disproportionately represented by large companies. For example, among companies with sales over $100 million, 51% indicated they would increase spending, yet only 17% of businesses with sales less than $1 million had similar plans.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, businesses faced with rising uncertainty over the economy and regulatory policies are expected to be more cautious about spending on equipment and software, as well as taking on more credit. The silver lining to this cloud is that technological innovation and equipment replacement needs should spur rapid growth in volume in late 2014 and beyond.