June 24 (Reuters) - U.S. companies' borrowing to spend on capital investments rose 18% in May from a year earlier, the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA) said.
Companies signed up for $9.1 billion in new loans, leases and lines of credit last month, up from $7.7 billion a year earlier. Borrowings rose 3% from the previous month.
"The continued low interest rate environment, coupled with solid fundamentals in the U.S. economy, provide incentive for U.S. businesses to expand and grow their operations," ELFA Chief Executive Officer Ralph Petta said.
"However, at the same time, we notice a slight deterioration in credit quality, which bears monitoring," Petta said, adding that the Federal Reserve and analysts have raised concerns over potential storm clouds on the economic horizon.
Washington-based ELFA, which reports economic activity for the $1 trillion equipment finance sector, said credit approvals totaled 75.9%, down from 76.8% in April.
ELFA's leasing and finance index measures the volume of commercial equipment financed in the United States. It is designed to complement the U.S. Commerce Department's durable goods orders report, which it typically precedes by a few days.
The index is based on a survey of 25 members that include Bank of America Corp, BB&T Corp, CIT Group Inc <CIT.N and the financing affiliates or units of Caterpillar Inc , Deere & Co, Verizon Communications Inc VZ.N, Siemens AG, Canon Inc and Volvo AB .
The Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation, ELFA's non-profit affiliate, said its monthly confidence index in June is 52.8, down from the May index of 59.2. A reading of above 50 indicates a positive outlook. (Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)