US Ex-Im acknowledges errors in politically sensitive small biz data

Fri Nov 14, 2014 10:40am EST
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By Howard Schneider and Krista Hughes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - (Refiles Nov. 13 story to fix spelling of Buffett throughout)

WASHINGTON (Reuters): The U.S. Export-Import Bank has mischaracterized potentially hundreds of large companies and units of multinational conglomerates as small businesses, a flaw in its record keeping that could undermine the export lender's survival strategy.

A Reuters analysis showed companies owned by billionaires like Warren Buffett and Mexico's Carlos Slim, as well by Japanese and European conglomerates, were listed as small businesses and Ex-Im acknowledged errors in its data in response to those findings.

Bank officials and supporters have used Ex-Im's support for American small business as the first line of defense against conservatives' campaign to shut it down as an exponent of "crony capitalism."

The bank just won a nine month extension of its mandate in September and faces a bruising battle over the next seven months to secure its future.

A comparison of some 6,000 businesses characterized by Ex-Im as "small" with information supplied by corporate data collector Dun & Bradstreet, which Ex-Im also uses to vet applicants, and other sources turns up some 200 companies that appear to be mislabeled and many more whose classification is uncertain.

A division of Austria's Swarovski jewelers shows up, as does North Carolina's Global Nuclear Fuels owned by General Electric GE.N and Japan's Toshiba 6502.T and Hitachi 6501.T.

The extent of the errors, which also mean some genuine small business transactions are not labeled as such, is not clear. Separate Ex-Im databases don't even agree with each other.   Continued...