Equipment Finance Industry Confidence Up Third Consecutive Month in March

The Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation recently released the March 2024 Monthly Confidence Index for the Equipment Finance Industry (MCI-EFI). The index reports a qualitative assessment of both the prevailing business conditions and expectations for the future as reported by key executives from the $1 trillion equipment finance sector. Overall, confidence in the equipment finance market increased for the third consecutive month to 55.2, up from the February index of 51.7, and the highest level since April 2022.

When asked about the outlook for the future, MCI-EFI survey respondent Keith Smith, President, Equipment & Franchise Finance, Star Hill Financial LLC, said, “Supply chain and demand seemed to have caught up to each other, we are finally seeing equipment ordered and delivered in real time. This has increased the overall activity in the equipment funding space. My biggest concern is the volatility the financial markets, specifically the health of mid-market/regional banks. Historically these institutions have been the backbone of funding in the equipment finance industry, and right now even the deposit-healthy institutions are slowing their lending due to regulatory concerns.”

March 2024 Survey Results:

The overall MCI-EFI is 55.2, an increase from the February index of 51.7.

  • When asked to assess their business conditions over the next four months, 19.4% of the executives responding said they believe business conditions will improve over the next four months, an increase from 10.7% in February. 77.4% believe business conditions will remain the same over the next four months, down from 82.1% the previous month. 3.2% believe business conditions will worsen, a decrease from 7.1% in February.
  • 25.8% of the survey respondents believe demand for leases and loans to fund capital expenditures (capex) will increase over the next four months, up from 7.1% in February. 71% believe demand will “remain the same” during the same four-month time period, down from 78.6% the previous month. 3.2% believe demand will decline, a decrease from 14.3% in February.
  • 16.1% of the respondents expect more access to capital to fund equipment acquisitions over the next four months, up from 14.3% in February. 74.2% of executives indicate they expect the “same” access to capital to fund business, down from 75% last month. 9.7% expect “less” access to capital, down from 10.7% the previous month.
  • When asked, 19.4% of the executives report they expect to hire more employees over the next four months, a decrease from 21.4% in February. 67.7% expect no change in headcount over the next four months, down from 71.4% last month. 12.9% expect to hire fewer employees, up from 7.1% in February.
  • None of the leadership evaluate the current U.S. economy as “excellent,” down from 3.6% the previous month. 93.6% of the leadership evaluate the current U.S. economy as “fair,” up from 89.3% in February. 6.5% evaluate it as “poor,” down from 7.1% last month.
  • 25.8% of the survey respondents believe that U.S. economic conditions will get “better” over the next six months, up from 17.9% in February. 54.8% indicate they believe the U.S. economy will “stay the same” over the next six months, a decrease from 67.9% last month. 19.4% believe economic conditions in the U.S. will worsen over the next six months, an increase from 14.3% the previous month.
  • In March, 22.6% of respondents indicate they believe their company will increase spending on business development activities during the next six months, an increase from 21.4% the previous month. 64.5% believe there will be “no change” in business development spending, down from 67.9% in February. 12.9% believe there will be a decrease in spending, up from 10.7% last month.

March 2024 MCI-EFI Survey Comments from Industry Executive Leadership:

Bank, Small Ticket

“The borrowers that have navigated through the uncertain economic conditions and higher rates should emerge even stronger as the economy strengthens.” Charles Jones, Senior Vice President, 1st Equipment Finance, Inc. (FNCB Bank)  

“I continue to think that 2024 will be a solid growth year for Wintrust Specialty Finance. The year has started off strong with new business originations at double-digit increases over the same period in 2023. Application volume continues to be strong while approval rates are lower due to lower credit quality we are seeing in the market. Portfolio performance remains heightened from recent years and still performing favorably to historic averages. It is important to remain focused on quality and portfolio performance as we wade our way through the transition in the economy.” David Normandin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Wintrust Specialty Finance

Bank, Middle Ticket

“The normalization of income in the grains and oilseeds sector of production agriculture has the potential to increase demand for financing. It will also increase credit risk, albeit from exceptionally strong levels.” Jason Lueders, President, Farm Credit Leasing

Captive, Small Ticket

“Inventories are returning to pre-COVID levels and end users need to replace older equipment they were forced to keep in service. A stabilizing rate environment and an election coming up could make 2024 a very good year.” Jim DeFrank, EVP and Chief Operating Officer, Isuzu Finance of America, Inc.

Independent, Large Ticket

“I expect conditions to remain stable for the balance of the year due to the upcoming election and the anticipation for interest rates to decrease.” Jonathan Albin, Chief Operating Officer, Nexseer Capital

Independent, Small Ticket

“The net jobs growth is now relatively weak and there are fewer job openings. The Fed may have, or is near, achieving a ‘soft’ landing with the economy.” James D. Jenks, CEO, Global Finance and Leasing Services, LLC

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