Main Street strengthens, but tough lending conditions linger

More businesses report stronger profits, according to Federal Reserve data

Small biz optimism hits 2-year low: Survey
Small biz optimism hits 2-year low: Survey   

Across the board, more small businesses reported stronger performance in 2015, though tough lending conditions persisted.

That's according to a 2015 small business credit survey report released this month, a collaboration among seven Federal Reserve Banks. More businesses reported stronger performances in profitability, revenue gains and employment growth in the survey compared to 2014.

"Both firm performance and financing success rates improved year over year," the report said.

The report focuses on responses of 3,459 employer firms from 26 states. And the data shed particular light in three areas: start-ups, microbusinesses and growing firms. Growing businesses are defined as those with increasing revenues and employees, and plans to boost or maintain their workforce.

Despite the overall gains, half of of the small businesses reported financing shortfalls between the third quarter in 2014 and third quarter in 2015. That means the businesses were approved for loans less than the amount requested. Microbusinesses and start-ups had the largest unmet financing needs with 63 percent and 58 percent, respectively, reporting a financing shortfall.

Meanwhile, traditional small banks remain the lender of choice for small businesses. Small banks approved at least some of the amount requested for 76 percent of applicants, while large banks approved 58 percent of applicants, according to the report.

Newer online players to small business lending have gained traction, but their overall satisfaction levels are low, according to the report. Overall, 20 percent of employer firms applied at an online lender.

Optimism muted

Small business
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Despite the Fed's overall positive data on Main Street, optimism remains uneven since the recession.

In separate data out Tuesday, U.S. small business confidence declined further in February to a two-year low. The National Federation of Independent Business said its small business optimism index dropped 1 point to a reading of 92.9 last month, which is well below the 42 year average of 98.

Read MoreSmall business confidence weakens

Spending and hiring plans weakened slightly as expectations for growth in real sales volumes fell. Earnings trends also softened.

"A ho-hum outcome this month confirms that the small business sector is not performing with any strength," NFIB Chief Economist William C. Dunkelberg said in a statement.

And this muted sentiment among pockets of Main Street is only getting amplified during a presidential election year.

What's driving small business owners during an election cycle? "There are issues squeezing small business owners from every side — the economy, taxes and health care," John Swanciger, CEO of Manta, a social network for small business owners, told CNBC. "They are looking for a candidate who understands how their sector is being impacted."

Read MoreMain Street speaks out: Top candidate for small biz