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Small and medium-sized businesses in the eurozone say getting bank loans remains difficult, according to the results of a survey released by the European Central Bank on Friday.
While the firms polled reported an increase in external financing needs for bank loans between October and March, "they also reported a deterioration in the availability of bank loans," the ECB said in a statement.
For the survey, the ECB polled a sample of 7,510 companies in the 17 countries that share the euro, most of which had a workforce of fewer than 250 employees.
The central bank conducts the survey at six-month intervals and the results are closely watched amid complaints that the unprecedented liquidity that the ECB made available to banks last year to avert a credit crunch is still not finding its way into the real economy.
Other ECB data released earlier this week indicate that lending activity in the euro area remains low, largely as a result of low credit demand.
Nevertheless, the SME survey did offer tiny glimmers of hope.
"The situation has improved compared with the previous survey," the ECB noted.
"The survey results also point to lower rejection rates for euro area SMEs when applying for a loan and a somewhat smaller percentage of SMEs reporting access to finance as their main problem," it said.
Summing up, the ECB said "financing conditions for SMEs continue to differ significantly across euro area countries and are in general more difficult than those for larger companies."