DealJournal, WSJ.com, August 27, 2008:
Providers of loans to start-up and other venture-backed companies are feeling the pinch of the credit problems plaguing Wall Street.
The latest is publicly traded venture debt provider Hercules Technology Growth Capital, which on Monday said it secured a $50 million line of credit from Wells Fargo–much smaller than the $250 million in available credit it secured from Citigroup and Deutsche Bank last year. “We’ve been in discussions, and continue to be in discussions [with Citigroup and Deutsche Bank] about continuing the existing facility, but their appetite to expand the facility we have with them is somewhat limited,” said Scott Harvey, Hercules Technology’s chief legal officer.
Most venture debt providers use a combination of equity and debt to provide loans to small, privately held life science and technology businesses. These firms will still be able to make loans from their own equity, but expect fewer venture-backed companies to be on the receiving end of those loans. “The best companies can still find credit at attractive terms, but as the available credit shrinks, the marginal companies are having more trouble getting deals done,” as are those companies looking for bigger financings, said Maurice Werdegar, an investment partner with Western Technology.
But even the highest-quality venture-backed companies might begin to see tougher terms and higher interest rates as the credit crunch continues. “It’s fair to say that this is starting to trickle down into the borrowing base. As the cost of capital goes up, that has to get passed along,” said Harvey, who added that he expects to begin seeing higher rates in the next three to six months.
Harvey said $50 million is adequate to meet the firm’s needs, and Hercules won’t be looking to add to the facility for at least another three months, but could raise as much as $300 million over the next two years. Harvey added that the company is being cautious about expanding the line of credit because there is a nonuse fee built into it.
Hercules, which has made about $1.3 billion in commitments to life science and technology companies since its inception in 2003, isn’t alone. This month, Western Technology Investment disclosed that its $125 million credit facility is being pulled by J.P. Morgan Chase and Deutsche Bank. “This is not isolated to us or our industry. Basically, the banks are unwinding the lending process,” said Ron Swenson, Western Technology’s chief executive.
Western Technology still has $220 million in equity remaining in its twelfth and most recent fund, which closed in February 2007.
–Scott Denne is a reporter at VentureWire, a Dow Jones publication and a contributor to Deal Journal.