(Reuters) - U.S. small businesses increased their borrowing in November from a year ago, suggesting continued economic growth ahead even as the Federal Reserve begins to reduce its massive monetary stimulus.
The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the volume of financing to small companies, rose 1 percent in November from a year earlier, to 111.4, PayNet said on Thursday.
November, with just 20 working days, had the highest per-day borrowing rate of 2013, the data showed.
"It's another sign of continued expansion," PayNet founder Bill Phelan said. Small businesses "are seeing more demand for goods and services, and that's all good for GDP."
Small companies typically take out loans to buy new tools, factories and equipment, so more borrowing can be an early signal of increased hiring ahead.
Historically, PayNet's lending index has correlated to overall economic growth one or two quarters in the future.
The outlook for the job market, and for economic growth more broadly, is crucial as the Fed begins a long-awaited reduction to its bond-buying program and weighs the economy's tolerance for subsequent cutbacks.
In December, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested the bond-buying program could be phased out completely in 2014.
A separate index showed small businesses have begun taking on slightly more risk, with delinquencies ticking up marginally from record lows.
Delinquencies of 31 to 180 days in November rose to 1.45 percent of all loans made, from 1.44 percent in October, according to the Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Delinquency Index.
A measure of accounts overdue as a percentage of all loans hit a high of 4.73 percent in August 2009.
PayNet collects real-time loan information such as originations and delinquencies from more than 250 leading U.S. lenders.
(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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