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: Quote) and Japan's Toshiba (6502.T: Quote) and Hitachi (6501.T: Quote).

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...