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GE Midmarket Lending Pipeline Expands 16% Amid U.S. Growth

General Electric Co.’s finance unit is expanding lending to small and mid-size businesses as confidence in U.S. economic strength grows.

GE Capital said it increased proposals to U.S. commercial lending and leasing customers by 16 percent in the first quarter from a year ago. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew by 10 percent at companies to which GE Capital lends, Dan Henson, chief executive officer of GE Capital, Americas, said in a telephone interview.

Small and mid-size companies are becoming more optimistic about the outlook for their businesses, with 67 percent forecasting revenue growth this year and 74 percent expecting to hire additional workers, according to a GE Capital survey of 495 chief financial officers at companies with annual sales of $50 million to $1 billion. Ninety-four percent of the CFOs said the U.S. economy will grow or remain stable in 2012.

“Our customer base continues to become more profitable, which supports the view of these CFOs that we’re on more stable footing,” Henson, who oversees commercial lending and leasing in North America, said in an interview. “More and more they see a growing environment.”

Credit availability has improved for companies in the survey, with only 7 percent saying access to funds has decreased over the past year. That’s compared with 24 percent in the first quarter of 2010, when GE Capital first conducted the poll.

GE Capital’s North American commercial loans and lease volume grew 15 percent last year to $106.8 billion. Worldwide, the unit’s $45.7 billion of revenue last year accounted for 32 percent of Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE’s $142.2 billion in total sales.

GE fell 2.2 percent to $18.88 at the close in New York amid a decline in the broader markets. The stock has advanced 5.4 percent this year, compared with a 9 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. The company is scheduled to report first-quarter results on April 20.

Ned Reynolds, a GE Capital spokesman, declined to provide the change in lending and leasing volume for the first quarter.

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