The Foundation Releases MCI-EFI Regarding Business Conditions and Expectations

The Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation (the Foundation) released the February 2015 Monthly Confidence Index for the Equipment Finance Industry (MCI-EFI). Designed to collect leadership data, the index reports a qualitative assessment of the prevailing business conditions and expectations for the future as reported by key executives from the $903 billion equipment finance sector. Overall, confidence in the equipment finance market is 66.3, a slight increase from the three-year high level reached by the January index of 66.1.

When asked about the outlook for the future, MCI-EFI survey respondent William Verhelle, chief executive officer, First American Equipment Finance, a City National Bank company, says, “The economy continues to improve. First American is seeing increased equipment acquisition activity among the large corporate borrowers we serve. We are optimistic that lower energy costs, if they remain at current low levels, will drive increased U.S. economic activity in the second half of 2015. We are more optimistic about the U.S. economy today than we have been at any time during the past six years.”

February 2015 Survey Results:
The overall MCI-EFI is 66.3, a slight increase from the January index of 66.1.

  • When asked to assess their business conditions over the next four months, 30.3 percent of executives responding said they believe business conditions will improve over the next four months, up from 23.3 percent in January. 63.6 percent of respondents believe business conditions will remain the same over the next four months, down from 76.7 percent in January. 6.1 percent believe business conditions will worsen, up from none who believed so the previous month.
  • 42.4 percent of survey respondents believe demand for leases and loans to fund capital expenditures (capex) will increase over the next four months, up from 20 percent in January. 51.5 percent believe demand will “remain the same” during the same four-month time period, down from 80 percent the previous month. 6.1 percent believe demand will decline, up from none in January.
  • 27.3 percent of executives expect more access to capital to fund equipment acquisitions over the next four months, down from 33.3 percent in January. 72.7 percent of survey respondents indicate they expect the “same” access to capital to fund business, up from 66.7 percent in January. None expect “less” access to capital, unchanged from the previous month.
  • When asked, 39.4 percent of the executives reported they expect to hire more employees over the next four months, a decrease from 50 percent in January. 57.6 percent expect no change in headcount over the next four months, up from 50 percent last month. 3 percent expect to hire fewer employees, up from none who expected fewer in January.
  • 6.1 percent of the leadership evaluate the current U.S. economy as “excellent,” up from 3 percent last month. 90.9 percent of the leadership evaluate the current U.S. economy as “fair,” down from 97 percent in January. 3 percent rate it as “poor,” up from none the previous month.
  • 45.4 percent of the survey respondents believe that U.S. economic conditions will get “better” over the next six months, an increase from 43.3 percent who believed so in January. 54.6 percent of survey respondents indicate they believe the U.S. economy will “stay the same” over the next six months, down from 56.7 percent in January. None believe economic conditions in the U.S. will worsen over the next six months, unchanged from last month.
  • In February, 48.5 percent of respondents indicate they believe their company will increase spending on business development activities during the next six months, a decrease from 50 percent in January. 51.5 percent believe there will be “no change” in business development spending, an increase from 50 percent last month. None believe there will be a decrease in spending, unchanged from last month.

February 2015 MCI-EFI survey comments from industry executive leadership:

  • Independent, Small Ticket
    “Demand remains moderate and competition is strong. We remain bullish for 2015 as we expand channels and products. We are planning on muted GDP so we are focused on making our own opportunities versus waiting for the general economy to expand.” David Schaefer, CEO, Mintaka Financial LLC

  • Bank, Small Ticket
    “Things just seem to be better. Gas prices and unemployment are headed in the right direction. I am concerned about the negative effect of lower gas prices, such as, higher fail rates of energy loans and energy stock value.” Kenneth Collins, CEO, Susquehanna Commercial Finance Inc.

  • Bank, Middle Ticket
    “I see continued strength in the transportation segment of the economy. That segment of our business will remain strong. The opportunities in oil and gas have substantially declined. I expect the decline to depress the volume of business during 2015. 2015 will be a mixed year with some industries doing well and others in decline.” Elaine Temple, president, BancorpSouth Equipment Finance

  • Bank, Middle Ticket
    “All signs have been pointing to a ‘break-out’ year in 2015. However, investment in capital assets continues to be sporadic. Companies continue to be cautious in expanding their production capacity. Let’s hope the economists are correct in their predictions for 2015.” Thomas Jaschik, president, BB&T Equipment Finance

Why an MCI-EFI?
Confidence in the U.S. economy and the capital markets is a critical driver to the equipment finance industry. Throughout history, when confidence increases, consumers and businesses are more apt to acquire more consumer goods, equipment and durables, and invest at prevailing prices. When confidence decreases, spending and risk-taking tend to fall. Investors are said to be confident when the news about the future is good and stock prices are rising.

Who participates in the MCI-EFI?
The respondents are comprised of a wide cross section of industry executives, including large-ticket, middle-market and small-ticket banks, independents and captive equipment finance companies. The MCI-EFI uses the same pool of 50 organization leaders to respond monthly to ensure the survey’s integrity. Because the same organizations provide the data from month to month, the results constitute a consistent barometer of the industry’s confidence.

How is the MCI-EFI designed?
The survey consists of seven questions and an area for comments, asking the respondents’ opinions about the following:

  • 1. Current business conditions
  • 2. Expected product demand during the next four months
  • 3. Access to capital during the next four months
  • 4. Future employment conditions
  • 5. Evaluation of the current U.S. economy
  • 6. U.S. economic conditions during the next six months
  • 7. Business development spending expectations
  • 8. Open-ended question for comments

How may I access the MCI-EFI?
Survey results are posted on the Foundation website, included in the Foundation Forecast newsletter and included in press releases. Survey respondent demographics and additional information about the MCI are also available at the link above.

To Lease or Buy Equipment

As the economy continues to improve, more construction businesses are making capital investments to fuel their growth. When business owners and managers consider acquiring equipment, they often think of their payment option as a “lease versus buy” decision. In any economic environment, when preserving owner or shareholder capital is an important goal, financing equipment through a lease or loan will enable your business to preserve its cash.

Whether you finance equipment through a lease or loan, each has its advantages. In evaluating your options, it is important to look at each alternative to determine which will best balance usage, cash flow and your financial objectives. To help determine the most appropriate option, consider the following questions:

1. How long will the equipment be required?

Generally speaking, if the length of time the equipment is expected to be used is short term (36 months or less), leasing is likely the preferable option. Equipment expected to be used for longer than three years could be a candidate for a lease or a loan.

2. What is the monthly budget for the equipment?

As with any ongoing business expense, consider the monthly cost for a piece of equipment and how it fits into your budget. In general, leasing will provide lower monthly payments.

3. Will the equipment become obsolete while it is still needed for the operation?

Protection against obsolescence is one of the many benefits of equipment leasing because the risk of obsolescence is assumed by the lessor. Certain lease financing programs allow for technology upgrades and/or replacement within the term of the lease contract.

4. Is the equipment going to be used for a specific contract or can it be used for other projects?

Often, the business objective of equipment is for it to be revenue-producing. If a piece of equipment has limited use within a specific contract and won’t be used for other projects, it’s not ideal for it to be idle while you continue to make payments on it. It makes sense to stop the equipment expense when the income from it ceases, which you can do with a lease.

5. How much cash would be required upfront for a lease and for a loan?

Leasing can often provide 100 percent financing of the cost of the equipment, as well as the costs for transportation, delivery, installation set-up, testing and training, and other deferred costs (sales tax). Loans usually require a down payment and don’t include the other cost benefits. Ask how much of a down payment is needed and assess the availability and desirability of allocating company capital for that down payment.

6. Can the company use the depreciation or would the company get a greater benefit from expensing the lease payments?

The tax treatment of the financing arrangement is an important consideration in choosing between a lease and a loan. A loan provides you with the depreciation tax benefit; with a lease, the lessor owns the equipment and realizes the tax benefit, which is usually reflected in a lower monthly rent payment for your business, as well as the ability to expense the payment.

In many instances, if your business cannot use the tax benefit, it makes more sense to lease than to purchase through a loan because you can trade the depreciation to the lessor in exchange for better cash flow.

7. How will a working capital facility be impacted?

Many businesses have an aggregate line of credit through a bank that they can use for inventory purchases, improvements and other capital expenditures.

Depending on the lending covenants, it is often possible, as well as preferable, to preserve your bank working capital by leasing equipment through an equipment finance provider.

8. How flexible does your business want the financing terms to be?

A lease can provide greater flexibility because it can be structured for a variety of contingencies, whereas, with a loan, flexibility is subject to the lender’s rules.

If your business has continuing use for the equipment at lease termination, extended rentals, purchase options, trade-ups and return options are available. The lease term allows your business to match all expenses to the term of the equipment’s use, including income-tax expense, book expense and cash expense. Most importantly, as mentioned previously, the expense stops when the equipment is no longer required.

With the current low-interest-rate environment, now is a good time to finance equipment, in general, through a lease or loan. Again, the benefits of the type of financing is dependent on a number of variables and not necessarily the economics alone.

9. Do you anticipate the need for additional equipment under your financing agreement?

If your business is planning for growth, you can enter into a master lease that will allow you to acquire multiple pieces of equipment under multiple schedules with the same basic terms and conditions. This provides greater convenience and flexibility than a conditional loan contract, which must be renegotiated for additional equipment acquisitions.

10. Who can help me evaluate what’s best for my business?

Whether you finance equipment through a lease or loan, each has its advantages. When making the decision between a lease and a loan, it is highly recommended you consult with your accounting professional, as well as draw on the resources of your equipment financing provider, to enable you to secure the best possible terms for your lease and/or loan.

These are some of the key considerations that should go into the lease versus loan decision-making process. Find a lease/loan comparison and online tools.