2020-07-10 —

``La Colombe didn't think it qualified for the government's forgivable small-business loan program given its size and canned coffee manufacturing business. It is too small to have ready access to the debt markets big companies use to raise funds -- markets that are chugging along with the help of Federal Reserve backstops.

The company's leaders thought that another Fed program, one intended to help midsize businesses by providing loans, would be their best shot at getting help. But when the central bank announced the details in early April, it was clear that La Colombe would not qualify. The company has too much debt relative to earnings to meet the Fed's leverage restrictions.

"That just doesn't make sense for companies like La Colombe, because we're growing so quickly," said Aren Platt, who leads special projects for the company.


First announced on March 23, the Main Street program finally allowed banks to register as lenders in mid-June -- but only about 450 of the nation's thousands of eligible banks have registered so far. Banks have reported that many clients are not interested in using the program, the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, acknowledged to concerned lawmakers during testimony in late June.


Small-town bankers say some clients have gotten spooked by the substantial paperwork involved in using the program. Big companies often have more attractive options elsewhere in the market. Some, like La Colombe, have too much debt to apply. That problem is echoed across the comment letters by companies that were expanding their footprint pre-pandemic.


The program fully opened on Monday, and Mr. Rosengren said banks had already offered loans for companies that had been hard-hit, like movie theaters. He declined to say how many, and said he expected demand to ramp up over time. The Boston Fed disclosures show that hardly any of the biggest banks, other than Bank of America, are willing to publicly say that they will make loans to new customers through the program.


Lawmakers have repeatedly pushed policymakers to make the program more inclusive and widely available. But Mr. Mnuchin has been relatively cautious about taking on credit risk, occasionally describing the Main Street program as a backup option that could be successful without ever being used by providing certainty to the market that credit would remain available.

Compare this with the Fed's pandemic support of the stock market and corporate debt -- it just goes in and buys without the companies having to do anything, or give up any rights...

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