For instance, JPMorgan Chase said its loans to middle-market businesses grew 17 percent in the last three months of 2011, the sixth consecutive quarter of loan growth. But CEO Jamie Dimon warned analysts in January clients were still waiting to use the money.
"It's not utilization. It's new lines of credit for the most part," he said.
The amount of loans to middle-market businesses at Wells Fargo grew 15 percent in the last three months of 2011 from the same period a year earlier, to about $265 billion. But Wells executives, too, report that not enough of the money is being used.
Most of Chase's customers are like Schlegel: They seem to have enough money to run their businesses. That they are opening lines of credit in large numbers is a sign that they want to be prepared if there is a pickup in in demand.
For Schlegel, demand is just starting to creep back. After the success of his four brunch restaurants, he took out two loans late last year from JPMorgan Chase to open his fifth and sixth restaurants — one in Colorado another in San Diego, his first out of state.
The two new restaurants allowed him to hire about 80 employees. But Schlegel is as skittish as the day he opened his first restaurant in 2006.
Scouting for new restaurant locations in 2011 proved more difficult than in 2010 and in 2009 because there were fewer spaces available and they were more expensive.
"I guess that's a favorable sign of an improving economy," says Schlegel. "I'm worried about how much we will be able to expand, and how easily I will be able to get my next loan."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.