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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General

Is the Economic Recovery Being Imperilled by Banks’ Continued Failure to Lend to SMEs?

Despite government rhetoric, evidence continues to pile up that the banks are still not lending to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
We are hearing that when companies apply for any lending the banks are only considering loans or overdrafts secured on tangible assets, with most also demanding personal guarantees from the directors in addition.
Total net lending by the UK’s five main banks fell in 2011 and they missed their lending target to small firms, whose use of bank overdrafts and loans has also declined over the past two years.
The FSB reports that of 11,000 SMEs just one in 10 obtained a bank loan in 2011 and that 41% of applicants had been refused loans in the three months to February 2012. The FSB believes the UK banking system is not geared up to lower end loans of less than £25,000, because “there’s no money in it”.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that recovery is being imperilled by the “yawning mismatch” between bank lending and SME demand for finance and at the end of April economists at Ernst and Young predicted that they expected lending to reduce further this year by 6.8 per cent, to £419 Billion.
Meanwhile invoice discounting and factoring have increased significantly, though banks are seemingly no longer offering these facilities, leaving the door open for independent companies such as Bibby, Close, Centric, SME, Ulitmate and the new British bank, Aldermore.
Are the banks struggling or are they simply withdrawing from the SME market?
We think the banks are being deceitful. Whatever the rhetoric, they are using PR tactics to report new loans, which are in fact not really new lending but the refinancing of existing facilities such as turning an overdraft into a term loan or a factoring facility.
This is piling even more pressure onto small businesses because there is a net decline in the flow of money into SMEs, and furthermore any new money is being provided at a very great cost in terms of fees and interest. While high rates of lending may be justified by the risk when it is unsecured, it is not justified when the loan is secured.
K2 would be very interested to hear from SMEs that have managed to secure a bank loan.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Businesses Should Pay Down Debt and Beware Offers That Seem Too Good to be True

Many businesses are overburdened with debt and desperate for ways to deal with pressure from banks, HMRC and other creditors. All too often they are prepared to pay off old debt by taking on new debt which leaves them vulnerable to unscrupulous lenders.
Prior to 2008, interest-only loans and overdrafts were a common method of funding, and were reliant on being able to renew facilities or refinancing.
Like many interest-only loans, an overdraft is renewed, normally on an annual basis, but it is also repayable on demand. What happens when the bank doesn’t want to renew the overdraft facility?  With the economic climate continuing to be volatile and uncertain and banks under intense pressure to improve their own balance sheets, they are increasingly insisting on converting overdrafts to repayment loans and interest-only finance is disappearing.
This has created a vacuum for alternative sources of funding to enter the market where distinguishing between the credible salesman and the ‘snake oil’ salesman can be very difficult. Desperate businesses are desperate often try to borrow money and become more vulnerable to what at first sight seem to be lenders that can offer them alternative funding solutions that the banks cannot.
Generally the advice is to beware, as the recent eight-year prison sentence handed to “Lord” Eddie Davenport illustrates.  The charges related to a conspiracy to defraud, deception and money laundering, also referred to as “advanced fees fraud”. 
The court found Davenport and two others guilty in September. Meanwhile a large number of businesses had paid tens of thousands of pounds for due diligence and deposit fees for loans that never materialised and left victims even deeper in debt. The case only became reportable in October, when restrictions were lifted.
Many businesses just want to survive and are trading with no plan or in some cases no prospect for repaying debt. In such instances they should be considering options for improving their balance sheet by reducing debt. Options might include swapping debt for equity, or debt forgiveness by creditors or setting up a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement).

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Are Estate Agencies Safer Businesses Now than they were in 2008?

The sub prime mortgage crisis that precipitated the 2008 global recession led to plummeting property prices, very limited mortgage lending, repossessions and to a dramatic slump in the housing and commercial property markets.
Estate agencies were among the first businesses to feel the effects of the crisis. By December 2008 an estimated 40,000 employees had lost their jobs while around 4,000 estate agency offices -approximately one in four – had closed.
The smallest agencies, of perhaps four or five branches or less, were worst affected particularly if they depended solely on property sales.
So is the worst over now for the estate agency business? Not if the most recent information on the housing market is any indication.
Gross mortgage lending declined to an estimated £9.8 billion in April 2011, down 14% from £11.4 billion in March and the number of mortgages approved for house purchases hit a new low in April, at 45,166, the lowest April figure since records began in 1992.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that the numbers of homes repossessed will rise from 36,000 in 2010 to 40,000 in 2011 and 45,000 in 2012 and the online housing company Rightmove reports that average unsold stock rose from 74 to 76 properties per branch, reaching the highest ever level for May.
Although the housing market varies significantly in different parts of the UK, with London booming and East Anglia holding steady while the north suffers there is also evidence that the demand for rented property and buy to let property is rising along with rent levels.
None of this suggests that the business of estate agency is likely to be any more secure for a few years yet.  If the High Street agents are to survive they need to revisit their business models, diversify their activities into letting, make use of online marketing and be sure they are up to speed on all the regulations governing landlords’ and tenants rights’ and other property letting regulations.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

It is obvious why Bank Fees are High and Business Lending is so Difficult

The figures for January to March showed a shortfall of 12% against the £19bn that represents a quarter of the annual £76bn target agreed with the government under the Project Merlin scheme for lending to smaller businesses.
Only 16% of FSB members had approached banks for credit and 44% of those had been refused, including some seeking credit to fulfil firm orders.
Growing businesses need working capital to fund the goods, materials, marketing and staff for new growth. While some of that can be obtained by borrowing against the sales ledger (through factoring and invoice discounting), the banks are seeing them as too high risk.
This is actually a reasonable response by the banks where businesses have been clinging on by their fingernails since the 2008 recession and, having used up most of their working capital on paying down old loans, are therefore according to the bank models seen as at high risk of insolvency.
It is a vicious circle. Less working capital means businesses neither have sufficient funds to buy materials to fulfil orders nor are they adequately capitalised to justify new loans.  This is why it is very common for businesses to go bust when growth returns following a recession.
Once banks are realising that a company with outstanding debt is in difficulty, they are providing for the bad debt by adjusting their own capital ratios to cushion against increased risk and in anticipation of the new Basel lll rules requiring bank Tier 1 capital holdings (equity + retained earnings) to rise from 2% to 7% to be phased in from 2015 to 2018.  
The result is higher fees and higher interest rates to businesses and it is no surprise that some companies already seen as a bad risk cannot borrow money, even when orders are rising.
Businesses that have used their land and buildings to secure loans or mortgages may also face huge risk related costs due to the bank’s exposure because banks already have so much commercial property as security that cannot be either leased or sold. The bank will therefore impose penal fees in a bid to recover the provisioning costs.
It has never been more urgent for businesses to mitigate this catch 22 by calling on expert help to look at fundamental solutions and recognise they will not be able to borrow money to limp along as they have been for the last two years.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Debt Collection & Credit Management Factoring, Invoice Discounting & Asset Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Do Small Businesses Understand Working Capital and Liquidity?

When borrowing against current assets, such as the sales ledger using factoring or invoice discounting or against fixed assets like plant and machinery or property, there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding among businesses about business funding and, in particular, working capital.
While credit is the most common form of finance there are many other sources of finance and ways to generate cash or other liquid assets that provide working capital. Understanding these is fundamental to ensure a company is not left short of cash.
Businesses in different situations require finance tailored to their specific needs. Too often the wrong funding model results in businesses becoming insolvent, facing failure or some degree of painful restructuring. In spite of this, borrowing against the book debts unlike funding a property purchase is a form of working capital.
Tony Groom, of K2 Business Rescue, explains: “Most growing companies need additional working capital to fund growth since they need to fund the work before being paid. For a stable business where sales are not growing, current assets ought to be the same as current liabilities, often achieved by giving and taking similar credit terms. When sales are in decline, the need for working capital should be reducing with the company accruing surplus cash.”
Restructuring a business offers the opportunity of changing its operating and financial models to achieve a funding structure appropriate to supporting the strategy, whether growth, stability or decline. Dealing with liabilities, by refinancing over a longer period, converting debt to equity or writing them off via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), can significantly improve liquidity and hence working capital.
While factoring or invoice discounting, like credit, are brilliant for funding growth, businesses should be wary of building up liabilities to suppliers if they have already pledged their sales ledger leaving them with no current assets to pay creditors.

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General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

First decline in household income for 30 years causes pain on the High Street

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported recently that in 2010 real household disposable income fell by 0.8%, its first drop since 1977.
A plethora of profit warnings from major high street retailers is therefore no surprise. JJB successfully agreed a new Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) for repaying debt, just two years after its last one. Oddbins’ attempts to agree a CVA were rejected which led to it going into administration.
Meanwhile travel company Thomas Cook announced a 6% fall in holiday bookings from the UK. Dixons announced that it was cutting capital expenditure by 25%. H Samuel and Ernest Jones, Argos and Comet all report falling sales. Mothercare is to close a third of its 373 UK stores and HMV has just sold Waterstones for £53 million to pay down some of its £170 million of debt.
Falling consumer confidence, the Government’s austerity measures and rising commodity prices have led to a steady erosion of disposable income. An April report indicated an increase in retail sales, up 0.2% on February’s, but this was attributed to non-store (internet) and small store sales and probably conceals a continued decline in High Street sales.
After a few years of expansion fuelled by debt, it is entirely logical that the marketplace is now facing a sharp contraction as consumers spend less money while they are concerned about their job security and repaying their huge levels of personal debt.
Many companies need to contract and reduce their cost base if they are to survive. For the High Street retailers this means concentrating on profitable stores and reviewing strategy.
Growth is likely to involve developing experience based retail outlets in dedicated shopping environments or direct sales such as online. The High Street has failed to reinvent itself and the recession has accelerated its decline.

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General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

The Current Conundrum Over Inflation and Interest Rates

The most recent inflation rates show that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has risen to 4%, a surprise drop of 0.4% from February and the Retail Price Index (RPI) to 5.3%, also a fraction less than February’s 5.5%.
If times were normal these figures would nevertheless trigger a rise in the interest rate to 7 % to 8%, about 2.5% above the RPI.
However, times are still clearly not normal following the financial “tsunami” that was the 2008 Great Recession. Many businesses are still struggling to survive and grow in the face of reduced spending by consumers and clients and cope with soaring materials and commodity prices and volatile oil prices because of uncertainty over events in North Africa and the Middle East.
As a result the fear that an interest rate rise might push the economy back into a recession has led to interest rates being decoupled from inflation.  Inflation is a form of currency devaluation.  It means that every £1 buys less than it did when inflation was lower.  Interest rate rises help to correct this. 
I would argue that currently many businesses are operating with huge levels of debt and not doing all they could to reduce even though they can only survive because interest rates are currently so low.  But this current situation is only temporary.
While a viable business should be able to build a surplus of cash in this situation to provide itself with a cushion once interest rates start to rise again, a business in difficulty will not have this option. It therefore needs to think ahead and revamp the business model and restructure to survive and be ready for to what will happen when things are more “normal”.

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General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

K2 believes the budget is positive for business and for those in difficulties

With the latest inflation figure showing an increase to 4.4% and a lower amount of tax collected in February, both announced the day before the budget was due, arguably the Chancellor had little room for manoeuvre.
There were some small comforts for smaller enterprises though the bulk of George Osborne’s measures are likely to benefit big corporations the most.
Cutting fuel duty by 1p per litre, and delaying a planned 4p per litre rise to April 2012 along with scrapping the fuel duty escalator was welcome particularly to hauliers, couriers and other companies that depend heavily on transport.
Keeping personal tax at its current level and increasing the personal tax allowance next year will also moderate any pressure on wage inflation, which is in any case not great given the current uncertainty over employment.
The money for apprenticeships, the new enterprise zones, the relaxation of planning laws and the new decision deadline should also make life easier for businesses.
However, I believe most of the budget’s measures are likely to benefit larger corporations, rather than the smaller, UK-focused businesses.
Overall this is a budget that doesn’t load yet more pressure on struggling businesses but the real concern among businesses is the prospect on interest rate rises which will squeeze those who are struggling to survive and precipitate a significant increase in the number of formal insolvencies.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Will Project Merlin Make any Difference to Business Lending?

With so many companies in financial difficulties will many companies be able to take out further loans as a result of the new agreement known as Project Merlin?
The government last week announced that it had reached agreement with the UK’s four biggest banks to increase the amount of new lending to business in 2011 to a total £190 billion, of which £76 billion would be for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). The SME portion is an increase of 15% on 2010.  
The lending to businesses will be on commercial terms that reflect the reduced number of lenders in the market. With bank base rates being so low, currently 0.5%, companies are being charged a huge premium with interest rates being set as 8 – 9% above the base rate. In addition, huge arrangement fees are also being applied, where fees representing 5 – 10% of the loan are not uncommon.
Many balance sheets are so decimated carrying huge liabilities to creditors such as HMRC, suppliers and asset based lenders (often at over value) that many businesses will not be able to justify a loan.
Business advisers, who see the effects of policy on the ground, say that one effect of Project Merlin will be for the banks to convert short term revolving facilities, such as overdrafts renewable daily, monthly or quarterly, into medium term loans. These will almost certainly be categorised as new loans in the quota reports but won’t actually represent additional, new funding. The banks continue to run rings around the politicians.
Converted loans are increasingly repayable on demand and therefore are being agreed on terms that allow the bank to keep all its options for essentially demanding immediate repayment.
Andrew Cave, of the Federation of Small Businesses, commented that the majority of small businesses were not seeking finance from the banks at the moment because the cost of existing and new borrowing is increasing and David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, also cast doubt on whether the agreement will make any difference because of what he called the banks’ poor and opaque decision-making and over-centralised processes, with a lack of good frontline relationship managers locally in the banks.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Latest Insolvency Figures Suggest that UK Business is Hanging on in There

Figures from the UK Insolvency Service just released on 4 February 2011 for the last quarter of 2010 (Q4) show a decline in compulsory and voluntary liquidations, continuing a downward trend.
The total number of compulsory liquidations and creditors’ voluntary liquidations for the quarter to 31 December 2010 was 3,955 in England and Wales, a decrease of 0.2% on the previous quarter and a decrease of 11.3% on the same period a year ago. 
However, closer examination of these numbers reveals that there were 1,200 compulsory liquidations, up 5.8% on the previous quarter but down 9.9% on the corresponding quarter of 2009, while 2,755 creditors’ voluntary liquidations (CVLs), are down 2.6% on the previous quarter and down 11.8% on the corresponding quarter of the 2009. 
Compulsory liquidations are therefore showing a very slight upward trend after the previous two quarters, when they were down 3.2% on the previous quarter and in Q2 were down 9.9%.
A more interesting and perhaps pertinent comparison is with the figures from the last recession.
Either directors are doing a fantastic job of restructuring their companies to remain profitable with positive cash flow, which is unlikely when the word is that advisers from the insolvency and restructuring professionals are not busy.
The other possibility is that “companies are just hanging on in there” with support from creditors, including HMRC and banks, adopting a very light touch on struggling companies.
Companies should bite the bullet and undergo restructuring to survive as viable businesses. Until then, they will continue to “hang on in there”.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Is it Realistic for Private Businesses to Employ more Staff in 2011?

The majority of businesses in the UK are defined as small and employ fewer than 50 people while only one per cent of UK companies employ more than 1000 people.
Small businesses would generally be defined as having fewer than 50 employees, assets worth less than £5 million and a turnover less than £5 million, yet they account for two thirds of the UK’s private sector.
The Government is pinning its hopes of recovery on dramatically and quickly reducing the country’s budget deficit with a combination of cutbacks, including making an estimated 330,000 people in the public sector redundant, a figure revised downwards in November 2010 from its estimate of 490,000 the previous June.
This revision, albeit in human terms still a large number of people, is based on its forecast for growth in the economy in 2011 of 2.1% for all of which it relies on the private sector – the majority of which is made up of small businesses.
Economists and politicians are both emphasising that the opportunities for growth lie largely in increasing exports on the grounds that there is a burgeoning middle class in the fastest growing economies, like China, India, Brazil and Russia (the BRICS) with a growing appetite for sophisticated technology and household products.
But while this might be an option for businesses involved in manufacture it does not help those many small businesses providing services and products to local businesses and consumers in the UK only.
The UK manufacturing sector currently accounts for 26% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published a White Paper proposing to expand adult apprenticeships by up to 75,000 by 2014-15 and to set up a new £50 million Growth and Innovation Fund, with financial support to SMEs to co-fund the costs of training for lower skilled employees.
Help with skills training by 2014-15 is hardly much use in 2011 and in any event growth will depend on being able to both increase sales and availability of finance from the banks to fund the additional working capital needed to support them.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Business Survival Depends on Stakeholder Co-operation and Collaboration

The support and co-operation of its stakeholders can be crucial to the success or failure of the efforts by a business in difficulty to restructure and survive.
Stakeholders are all those people who have an interest in the business and are likely to be affected by its activities and most crucially by its failure, and they include shareholders, investors, creditors, the bank, suppliers, landlords, employees (and their union representatives) and customers or clients.
Plainly, when a business is in difficulty and has called in a rescue adviser to review its activities, costs, business model and viability, any actions it may need to take as a result will be more likely to succeed if its stakeholders both understand the situation and support the proposed solutions.
While there is one key interest that all hold in common, which is that all have an interest in the business surviving if they want to continue to receive income from it, it is probable that the interests of some stakeholders will conflict with those of others.
Employees will be most concerned about keeping their jobs and their co-operation in any restructuring is likely to depend on whether they feel the management is considering their concerns as well as involving them in the changes that may need to be made.  If there are unions involved getting them on board can be the key to persuading employees to co-operate.
Creditors and investors, on the other hand, may just want to be paid what they are owed and whether they are prepared to forgo or renegotiate payments or finance in the short term will depend on how much confidence they have in its future. 
The bank’s primary concern is to ensure loans are secure, safe and will be paid and will want to be kept informed as well as being given evidence that the business has been properly looked at by a specialist adviser, shown to be viable and any proposals are realistic and have a good chance of achieving the desired results.
It is crucial that the rescue adviser is involved in the management of the stakeholders thus ensuring that their concerns are understood. This will go a long way to ensuring stakeholders’ co-operation.