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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

The pros and cons of an infrastructure boost post pandemic

infrastructure boostThe UK Prime Minister has signalled a massive infrastructure boost to help the country’s economy to recover post pandemic.
The details and plans for allocation of money are likely to be fleshed out in the autumn but in a speech at the end of last month he indicated that more than £5 billion would be spent on infrastructure projects, many of them in northern and central England as part of his pledge to tackle the imbalance between London and the South and the more deprived regions.
The projects will include spending on hospitals, roads, railways and schools, including what are called “shovel-ready” projects to help businesses and individuals to recover and address the expected mass unemployment.
Business directors should be planning now to take advantage of the proposals, especially those in the construction and tech sectors that are likely to be recipients of the government money.
I know of at least one company, supplying a unique range of thermally efficient, environmentally-friendly products to house builders, which is already well-placed to grow post-Coronavirus to supply its Passivhaus compliant insulated foundation and walling systems.
The government initiative does however highlight some issues that are associated with ambitious plans that are announced without thinking them through.
In his speech, the Prime Minister promised to simplify the planning system and regulations to speed up the process.
Unless some thought and care is put into how the infrastructure boost is carried out there is a risk that the initiative will undo what little progress has been made to reaching promised environmental targets.
For example, while improving the road infrastructure is needed in some parts of the country, it is likely to increase the numbers of vehicles on the roads and in turn will contribute to an increase in CO2 emissions and global warming.
In fairness, the PM did also promise to “build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain” with a commitment to plant approximately 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025. He does like his promises.
It may also be the case that ambitious infrastructure plans fail to meet the objectives of creating a large numbers of jobs. It is likely that businesses will be looking to find ways of reducing their dependence on labour investing in and more automation and technology-driven ways of working.
These are points highlighted by the economist Joseph Stiglitz who argues that there are infrastructure spending risks but also acknowledges that “well-directed public spending, particularly investments in the green transition, can be timely, labour-intensive (helping to resolve the problem of soaring unemployment) and highly stimulative”.
It is clear, however, that directors will need to find innovative ways of delivering the proposed infrastructure while at the same time also promoting their “green” credentials.
#infrastructureboost #economicrecovery #construction #techinnovation

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

The latest insolvency statistics for the first quarter of 2020 don’t tell the whole story

insolvency statistics not the whole storyAstonishingly given the news coverage of a financial fallout due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the latest insolvency statistics for Q1 January to March 2020, show a decrease both when compared to the previous quarter and to the same quarter in 2019.
The figures, published by the Insolvency Service yesterday, showed a total of 3,883 company insolvencies with the majority again being in CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations).
This was a decrease of 10% compared with the last quarter of 2019, October to December, and of 6% when compared to January to March quarter of 2019.
Construction continued to have the highest number of insolvencies, followed by the wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food services.
While these insolvency statistics cover the period before the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic was imposed a drop in insolvencies is still surprising given that economies in the UK and EU had been slowing in previous months.
There is more clarity, however, from the latest Begbies Traynor Red Flag alert figures published on April 17.
They reported their highest-ever numbers of businesses in significant distress at 509,000 with the impact of the lockdown showing 15,000 more businesses in significant distress (3%) compared with Q4 2019. The vast majority of these, they found, were SMEs with under 250 employees.
There is even more concern in the Red Flag figures for businesses in critical distress, which Begbies Traynor regards as a precursor to falling into insolvency. They reported a 10% increase in the last quarter alone, although, as they note, “creditors have been held back from taking court action due to the lockdown”.
The most notable increases, they report, are a 37% increase in bars and restaurants, 21% increase in real estate and property, 11% increase in construction and 8% increase in both general retail and manufacturing.
All this is despite the various financial support measures of grants and loans announced by the Chancellor who has sought to help businesses survive the pandemic.
Having said that, loans need to be repaid and many are concerned about the future prospects for businesses and for some industries that may take some time before they return to normal, not least the Banks who understandably might be reluctant to lend to those who are unlikely to repay their loan. This might explain the numbers of businesses that have been turned down.
In the middle of an unprecedented situation like the current pandemic it is difficult to draw conclusions from trends or make meaningful assumptions about the future number of insolvencies but there is no doubt they will rise significantly.
Historically the rise has been an indicator of the country coming out of a recession although most recessions have been ‘V’ shaped where some are predicting a ‘U’ or even an ‘L’.
Clearly much will depend on for how long the lockdown continues and we should prepare for many companies, particularly those relying on travel, events, hospitality and an already-struggling High Street, to disappear altogether as Warehouse and Oasis have most recently done.
Much will also depend on consumer confidence and spending power – and how many people have lost their jobs but clearly economic and business recovery will be prolonged and painful.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Insolvency Turnaround

Dire insolvency figures for 2019 – and little respite in sight?

insolvency figures and lifebeltsThe final quarter insolvency figures for 2019 make grim reading, as does the regular Red Flag update from insolvency and recovery firm Begbies Traynor.
The main messages from the latest insolvency figures, published for Q4 2019 by the Insolvency Service at the end of January, were that in 2019 underlying company insolvencies increased to their highest annual level since 2013 driven by a by 8.2% increase in CVLs (Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations) which were at their highest level since 2009 and by a 24.0% increase in administrations, their highest level since 2013.
Construction, the wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food services suffered the most, as they had been doing all year.
Begbies Traynor’s Red Flag update published last week also piled on the misery, with findings that a record 494,000 UK businesses are now in ‘significant financial distress’ with property, support services, construction and retail businesses suffering the most. These figures were the highest-ever since the company began reporting its Red Flag research 16 years ago.
Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “Currently, we do not know if the failing performance within some sectors is due to short term confidence issues, or more fundamental economic and structural issues.”
But, arguably, the worst insolvency figures could yet be to come.

Bellicose politicians and European stagnation

On Friday night the UK formally left the EU. While this has established a level of political certainty, for business the economic uncertainty continues for at least ten months before our trading relationship with EU has been negotiated.
The negotiation timetable helps us know when we might have certainty about our trading relationship. The first being the end of June as the last day by which any extension to the 11 month transition period can be sought although as things stand the PM has ruled that out. Without an extension the deadline for a Brexit trade deal is the 26th November as the last date for it to be presented to the European Parliament if it is to be ratified by the end of the year.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty of its trading relationship with the EU, the UK can now begin negotiating its own trade deals with other countries.
But whoever heard of a trade deal being formalised so quickly?
Furthermore, this will all take place in the context of stalling economic growth in the EU, particularly in France and Germany as revealed last week:
“Gross domestic product (GDP) in the currency bloc rose by just 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019 from the previous quarter, according to the EU statistics agency Eurostat.”
Stock markets were also dropping dramatically, which has been attributed largely to the spread of Coronavirus that has led to a lockdown of much of China.
All this, without taking into account changing consumer behaviour and confidence, partly due to increasing debt levels and to environmental concerns. Perhaps, given the 6% annual increase in personal insolvency figures over 2018, now at its highest level since 2010, there is also a degree of job uncertainty. In retail, for example, almost 10,000 jobs have been lost since the start of the year and 57,000 went in 2019, according to the Retail Gazette.
The Prime Minister and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, seem set on taking a very hard line ahead of negotiations with the EU. While there are some that take the view that in negotiations it is best to start off taking as hard a line as possible then softening as they progress, given that the remaining countries in the EU clearly have their own problems that they will be seeking to solve the words “rock and hard place” spring to mind.
So, there is a distinct possibility of a hard Brexit, one without a deal although message spin is likely. If this is the case then the uncertainty for business will continue beyond the end of the year until a new normal is established.
We therefore endorse the advice of Eleanor Temple, chair of R3 (the insolvency and recue industry body) in Yorkshire:
“These insolvency figures should be a wake-up call to any director of a company which is finding it hard going at the moment. Anyone in this position should look to take objective advice from a qualified, professional source, to decide the best path forward – and the earlier this is done, the better.”

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Retail start-ups – opportunity or lack of opportunity?

An estimated record 10,000 new retail businesses were launched in 2014 compared to 2013 according to Creditsafe, a company providing information on the health of businesses.
The new retail start-ups included shops, online retailers, cafes and restaurants and the development was being interpreted as a sign that entrepreneurs are leading the economic recovery partly because retail is seen as a major indicator of consumer confidence.
However, it remains to be seen how many of these fledgling businesses are still trading in 12 months’ time and whether this is indeed a case of entrepreneurs seizing opportunities or whether it is in fact a response to the lack of alternative opportunities.
It has been clear for some years following 2008 that retail is a volatile sector and has been in the throes of huge changes. While there are positives in the rise of the “shop local” initiatives aimed at supporting independent small traders, there has also been evidence that people have become very cost conscious and cautious in spending with smaller but more frequent trips to the shops.
Online shopping and a disenchantment with major High Street chains and edge of town superstores may indeed be a positive sign for the 10,000 fledgling retailers, but they will need to be very canny about pricing, marketing and controlling cash flow to survive.
We await the January post mortem on retail trade during Christmas and New Year, but already it looks like 2015 is going to be an interesting year.

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Growth? – make hay while the sun shines

With all the uncertainty and market volatility in recent weeks should SMEs still focus on cash so that new opportunities and growth can be funded without over-trading (running out of cash)?
It seems that although many small businesses are reporting increases in orders, they are being cautious about taking risks.
Generally as an economy comes out of recession and orders start to pick up there’s a risk of over-trading, especially where a business has insufficient capital reserves to fund the period between order and payment.
This explains the well-documented rise in insolvencies that characterises the start of an economic recovery. We haven’t seen a rise in insolvencies yet and the feedback from SMEs has been that they are not yet convinced of a stable recovery.
We believe SMEs are taking a realistic view in welcoming increased business, deciding to make hay while the sun shines, but not yet pursuing aggressive growth strategies.
What is your view?

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Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

"The King is in the all together"

John Lewis boss Andy Street’s comments on France may have offended French sensibilities, provoked the ire of its Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and extracted an apology, but the episode raises serious questions.
No, not about the state of the French economy which is plainly in some difficulty, but there is a wider issue here.
Nobody would condone many of the examples of offensive language and opinions to be found on social media, for example.
But if distaste for such extremes on social media were to shift the general consensus so that people become less tolerant, will public figures become fearful of expressing opinions with any force or honesty?
We already see this among politicians, who rarely these days say anything meaningful or definitive in public and invariably have to resign if private remarks become public. Arguably that has led to disenchantment with all mainstream politicians and the rise of extreme parties less afraid to express themselves.
But if this concern starts to infect all society’s leading figures, isn’t there a risk that we may lose sight of reality, we may be ignoring the elephant in the room?
Fear becomes the driver of collective dishonesty where no one is prepared to speak out, let alone address unpalatable truths.
In such an environment who will deal with our economic, social and business problems?
How can we have a meaningful exchange of ideas or constructive debate without genuine, honest and fearless dialogue?
Who is going to tell the King his suit isn’t made of cloth?

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Glass half full?

In an ideal world every small business is planning ahead but needs some clarity and certainty about the future economic environment in which it is likely to be operating.
The reality, however, is more like an exercise in crystal ball gazing.
Business headlines portray a rosy picture of the UK economy back to pre-Great Recession levels of performance which is underpinned by unemployment falling dramatically. It should however be remembered that we are already in the build-up to the next election, now less than a year away.
Other commentators who are not getting the headlines are promoting a level of caution that no one wants to hear. We have had quite enough bad news over the past 6 years and now want some good news.
It may however be unwise to be unaware of the warning from IMF Chief Christine Lagarde, that financial markets may be a little too optimistic, given that recovery is still lagging in Europe, one of the UK’s chief export markets.
It would also appear that not everyone is enjoying a boom if the reports are correct about UK businesses being in arrears with VAT, calculated as having have risen by £100 million to £2.6 billion in 2013, according to business finance provider LDF.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee is also concerned about signs of a weakening in growth in the second half of the year, pointing out also that real wage rates have not yet started rising, while inflation is edging up.
We should know that economic forecasting is by no means a precise science, and if we had forgotten 2008 was a big reminder that chancellors of the exchequer cannot ensure there will never be a return to “boom and bust” economics.
Business planning needs to take into account confidence or lack of it. Hope and spin are not much help to the small business deciding whether to seek funds to invest in the future or avoiding taking risks.
So, apart from continuing to keep a close eye on cash flow as a prudent measure, is it time for businesses to plan for growth? And who is going to back them by sharing their risk?

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

Business rates reform – there is a prospect of SMEs being exempt

It is three months since the BIS (Business, Innovation and Skills) select committee of MPs published its findings on the current system of business rates and called them not fit for purpose and in need of fundamental reform.
Its suggestion was to replace business rates with a sales tax, something the Government has rejected on the grounds that the UK already has a sales tax – VAT.
There have been various suggestions from interested parties about what needs to be done.  The BRC (British Retail Consortium) proposed that small businesses with a rateable value of below £12,000 should be freed from paying the tax, something that would benefit an estimated 100,000 businesses.
Most recently the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) has waded in, calling the current system “outmoded, clunky and regressive”.
It has suggested that there should be more frequent rate reviews, that the tax should be linked to rental values rather than land values and that small businesses should be exempt.
Given that despite the economic recovery many small businesses are still struggling to survive and even fewer are able to grow we argue that the impact on them of business rates is “disproportionate”.
It time the Government grasped the nettle rather than kick the can down the road with a further delay that is expected following the Autumn review.
With support from the BRC and CBI, small businesses and their representative organisations should become proactive by lobbying Ministers and MPs for change, especially given the prospect of being exempt from business rates.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

From little acorns……..

 

Our regular readers will know that we continue to liberally apply a pinch of salt to reports on the solidity of the much-heralded economic recovery for several reasons.

Firstly, most national news emanates from London and there is still a great gulf between the capital and the rest of the country. Much of London’s optimism is down to the enormous rise in the value of property which has contributed to London home owners feeling wealthier.

Secondly, a little-noticed report in late April in the Daily Telegraph noted the latest data from the Bank of England’s quarterly report showing that business lending, especially to smaller and medium-sized businesses, has continued to decline for the sixth successive quarter.

Thirdly, there is the evidence of our own eyes and ears. We are hearing that small and micro businesses are still facing tough trading conditions. Most are having to work hard for the money they make as well as dealing with continued uncertainty and experiencing the frustration of a long wait for the decision on every contract they pitch for.

Finally, the greatest impediment to recovery and growth remains a fear of interest rates. While they will inevitably rise, the concerns are threefold: 1. the ability to service them, 2. the impact on consumer spending and 3. whether banks and other secured lenders will call in their loans like they have in the recovery phase after previous recessions.

Interestingly, David Boyle, writing in the Business Guardian this week points out that talk of rebalancing the economy (from London to the regions and from financial to manufacturing sectors) seems to have morphed into little more than reducing the trade deficit.

He argues that far more attention needs to be paid to putting money into what he calls “ultra-micro-projects” perhaps by using existing resources such as waste land, unoccupied people and buildings for innovative small businesses that would bring money into the community.

It may not be glamorous, nor is it attractive to the policy makers, but given that the so-called recovery is taking place in a situation where there is still a large amount of business and consumer debt perhaps his idea has some merit?

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

What help was the budget to SMEs?

 

A post-budget vote in Kent by 100 business people revealed that 80% of them were more confident about the prospects for the economy in the South East than at this time last year.

But looked at closely, there was very little in the budget that was likely to make things any easier for the UK’s SMEs, which account for more than half our output and two thirds of all employment.

Admittedly, direct lending from government to UK businesses to promote exports was doubled to £3bn and interest rates on that lending cut by a third and business rate discounts and enhanced capital allowances in enterprise zones were extended for three years. But how many SMEs will benefit from these measures?

Admittedly also, some small builders may benefit from the extension to Help to Buy until 2020 and the “support” for the building of more than 200,000 new homes.

But there was not a word about the review of business rates that had been pressed for by so many businesses, not only High Street Retailers, in the days leading up to the Budget statement, nor about the previously oft-repeated promises to reduce red tape.

Given that the Chancellor himself has conceded that economic recovery is built on very fragile foundations is such an increase in confidence on the part of the businesses of Kent a case of too much too soon?

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

Should Private Equity be involved in High Street retail?

 

2014 started with much media speculation that a variety of well-known retailers – or more correctly, their Private Equity(PE) owners were preparing to float on the Stock Market.

They included Fat Face (77% owned by PE firm Bridgepoint) Card Factory (owned by PE firm Charterhouse) and Poundland (76% owned by Warburg Pincus).

This resurgence of so-called “animal spirits” seems to be fuelled by a perceived improvement in consumer confidence, investor appetite driving the search for better returns than those available in a low interest rate debt market, the lack of debt available for refinancing businesses and the need for PE owners as investors to realise profits.

This may herald a resumption of the pre-2008 practice of PE buying out retailers, often as a public to private deal, repaying themselves by loading them with debt, and then flipping them back into public ownership.

The 2008 Global financial crisis put this practice on hold and indeed it has placed enormous financial pressure on some PE funds due to the lack of debt available for refinancing their acquisitions.

Indeed many PEs have ended up with burnt fingers, such as Guy Hands’ Terra Firma’s purchase of EMI,which defaulted on its debt to CitiGroup,  and US-based Bain Capital LLC (owned by Mitt Romney), which purchased the purchase of Toys “R” Us, which has seen a decline in revenue.

High Street retail casualties over the last five years have included Nicole Farhi, Comet, JJB Sports, Jessups, Blockbuster, Clinton Cards, Habitat, Focus DIY, Floors-2-Go, the Officers Club, Oddbins, Woolworths and MFI.  Some, such as Focus, JJB, Nicole Farhi, MFI and Comet were PE owned.

With banks having tightened up so significantly on lending in recent years PE sources of funding are inevitably more focused on investors such as pension funds and not surprisingly fund managers are generally risk averse being responsible for other people’s money.

Despite the economy picking up, the buy, refinance and flip PE model may not work in the way it did. The growth in online shopping, concentration of retail parks, intense competition and changing consumer habits may yet thwart many PE deals.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Unbalanced recovery – surprise, surprise

 

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of profit warnings from high profile companies, including Serco, Pearson, RBS, Debenhams and Morrisons, mainly based on their sales in the last quarter of 2013.

Subsequently the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said that the so-called economic recovery was “neither balanced nor sustainable”.

Then last week Chancellor George Osborne, speaking to business leaders in Hong Kong, referred to the economy as being “not secure” and “unbalanced”.

Prior to these developments the overall message coming from Government was far more positive with unemployment falling faster than expected and predictions that the economic recovery would consolidate throughout 2014.

There had been plenty of voices warning that the recovery was far too dependent on consumer-led spending and the property market but they went unheeded.

What has changed?

Now it seems the ONS figures due to be released next week are expected to reinforce this latest message of an unbalanced and fragile recovery too reliant on consumer spending.

Could it be that we are being prepared for an unpalatable budget which the Chancellor is due to deliver in three weeks’ time? 

The message for SMEs remains that caution is warranted, close attention to cash flow is still in order and ever greater efforts to grow are needed.

As an SME owner are you more confident than you were a year ago  – or less?

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Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Flavour of the month – MINT

 

It started with the BRICs, then came the PIGS and now it’s the MINTs.

What do they all have in common besides being acronyms?  They’re all groups of countries that have at various times been grouped together as either economies that are tipped to grow, and therefore offer good potential for UK firms wanting to expand and export their goods and services, – or possibly not, in the case of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) highlighted as problem economies at the height of the global financial crisis.

It seems the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are old news.  The potential new kids on the block are the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey).

Although they are widely disparate both geographically and in terms of infrastructure they are being seen as emerging economies with growing populations of young people.

We’ve said before that SMEs in the UK need to become more innovative when researching markets for their products and services and to not discount opportunities for growth abroad.

We’re not pretending it will be easy so you need to do your homework.  If you can, it’s worth actually visiting the country to get a feel for how things work and what opportunities might exist.

The Government’s UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) is a good place to start.  It offers support and experts to help you and regularly organises business delegations to countries around the world.

Fancy a MINT anyone?

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

Economic recovery outside London?

 

From my office in Mayfair it would seem that economic recovery is gathering pace, but when I visit clients outside the M25 it is a very different picture.

A year-end editorial in the Observer highlighted the imbalance between London and the rest of the country, calling for efforts to redress the balance of wealth distribution across the regions.

In my last blog about the winners and losers over Christmas I cited examples to show the patchy nature of recovery.

However some research highlights the issue on imbalance:

The Trussell Trust, organiser of the food bank network, reports a 400% increase in demand for emergency food parcels in 2011-12 (most recent figures). More alarming is that the recipients are “ordinary families, who in the past would never have had to fall back on such support”.

These include recipients among the “squeezed middle” who according to the Resolution Foundation make up a third of the country’s working age households – people on an income of between £20,000 and £35,000, 60% of them owner-occupiers. These households spend 48% of their household income on essentials (food, clothing, transport, energy supplies) and 25% of their income on mortgage payments. 

This is no surprise given that energy prices have risen by 24% since August 2009, not including the most recently announced increases averaging around 7%, and that house prices have risen by 7.5% in the last year, according to the Halifax, while wage increases have at best only risen by around 2%, if at all.

The Foundation predicts that: “Based on current projections, the typical low to middle income household is expected to be no better off by 2017-18 than it was in 1997-98”.

Not all of those in the squeezed middle can get on the train in order to exploit the opportunities available in London – especially not when the cost of a season ticket is around £3,236 from Southend, £6,760 from Grantham, £5,440 from Rugby and £7,480 from Norwich.

All of this underlines the lunacy of relying for recovery on a growth in consumer spending and property sales – and why many SMEs outside London are somewhat sceptical that there is economic recovery at all.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Turnaround

It’s all about getting the balance right if SMEs want to grow

 

There is a lot of optimism in the press and the New Year heralds confidence about the prospects for growth.

What does this mean for SMEs hoping to take advantage of the predicted improved trading conditions?

In a word: realism.

It requires deep knowledge of a business’s current financial position, specifically its current assets and liabilities, as these are crucial for funding growth.

If an SME is operating on very slender margins, or just about hanging on from month to month, it is unlikely to be able to take advantage of increasing orders without some additional finance and preferably not of the kind that relies on personal savings or support from friends and family, as a quarter of SMEs currently are, according to research by Bibby Financial Services.

SMEs will need to be mindful of two things when planning for growth. Firstly, it is looking increasingly likely that interest rates may start rising towards the end of 2014 which suggests that having a robust forecast will help assess the impact of interest rates before taking on more debt.

Secondly, there is as yet little evidence that lending to businesses is becoming any easier, especially loans from the banks or extended credit from suppliers which suggests that growth will need to be funded by either reserves or shareholders.

So an SME’s first step in planning for growth is to not only to know the current financial situation but to also have realistic forecasts that may need to be prepared with input from an external business advisor.

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

Growth for SMEs in 2014?

This is the time of year when all the pundits, stargazers and assorted “experts” start predicting what the next 12 months will hold for businesses.
K2 is not planning to join them, but we do have a few questions that may affect SMEs in the months ahead.
So let’s set the scene.  We have some indications of a recovering economy that many believe will consolidate in 2014.  However, there are plenty of experts already warning against a repeat of a consumer debt-driven, housing bubble- led upturn that is inherently risky after the property market collapse in 2008.
CBI director-general John Cridland made this point in his New Year’s address: “As a country, we need to move away from an economy that was far too reliant on consumer and government debt.”
He has, rightly, called for well-balanced growth, with a renewed effort from business to focus on new markets and exports, of both products and services.
So the questions for SMEs who may be hoping to grow their businesses are: how will they finance growth? Is now the right time to be taking on additional risks? How are they going to minimize the risk of getting their timing wrong?  Is the growth likely to be sustainable? What is growth – sales, margins or both? Are there any options for growth without taking on more risk?
We will be looking at aspects of these questions in coming blogs and would welcome comments from SMEs about how they see the future for their businesses and how they are addressing these questions.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Is it wise to rely so heavily on a recovery led by consumer spending?

There has been some recent data and a good deal of spin about the economic recovery becoming more secure and that it is time for businesses to start investing for growth.
While unemployment may be steadily decreasing, the housing market picking up and consumer spending rising a little it would, in our view, be wise to be cautious, not least because the Government seems to be relying a little too heavily on a consumer and SME-led recovery.
Firstly, there has been evidence that the jobs being “created” are part time and low-paid and that in any case wage increases are lagging far behind the rising cost of living. 
Secondly, on the evidence so far, households will be facing hefty utility and energy price rises in the region of 10% by the end of the year, despite Thames Water’s attempt to increase water rates next by 8% being rejected by the watchdog. 
Thirdly, there is also some evidence that increased consumer spending is yet again being financed by credit cards and personal debt, which has been rising steadily since mid-2012. 
Fourthly, there are still plenty of voices arguing that the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme is merely pushing up house prices and borrowing to “bubble” levels – a point reinforced by property website Rightmove, which revealed a 10% rise in property price in London in October and of an average 2.8% in asking prices in most parts of England. 
It would appear that measures to stimulate the economy are working, but can we be certain these are not a pre-election gimmick that conceals the truth? 
Regardless of short term statistics, consumer spending will continue to struggle while personal and SME levels of debt are so high and households continue to worry about making ends meet. In such a market SMEs as well as consumers might be wise to wait until after the election to confirm growth is sustainable before making big investments.
 In the meantime they would be well advised to continue paying close attention to cash flow, paying down any expensive debt or hoarding cash and if necessary restructuring to be as lean and fit as possible ready for the moment when the fat lady really does start singing, IF she does. What do others think?
 

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

Read the fine print

We are hearing stories of lenders applying enormously high rates of interest, as high as 59%, on asset-based loans to businesses or in one case, 26% per month.
It is possible that the influence of lenders like Wonga have persuaded people that rates up to 5000% for unsecured loans are the acceptable “new normal” and this has influenced the asset based lenders, especially for bridging or short-term finance, to significantly increase their rates or apply huge fees.
Some SMEs are desperate for money, perhaps because they want to take advantage of the improving economy to develop or more often due to creditor pressure, and as a consequence are neither thinking straight nor considering restructuring as an alternative when agreeing to such loans that are normally secured against personal assets.
While annual rates quoted on a loan may seem reasonable, it is only close scrutiny of the paperwork that reveals penal rates such as the example of 26% per month that may apply to a covenant breach, despite any security.
Our advice is to look very carefully at the detail when considering an asset-based bank loan and to shop around for alternative sources of finance.  There are plenty of options out there and you can find them in our free, downloadable guide:  http://www.k2finance.co.uk

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

Economic recovery and funding growth

A recent survey by the FSB reported that 47% of its members had been refused loans in the last three months to September and 56% felt that banks did not care about SMEs.
At the same time, the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association warned that requiring banks to improve their leverage ratio (money lent out in relation to capital reserves) could “do more harm than good”. Contrast this with Sir John Vickers, who was involved in drawing up post-crisis reforms to the banking sector and his arguing that the suggested ratios are still way too low and risky.
And, banks are still facing an estimated £10 billion in potential payouts to businesses mis-sold interest rate protection and hedging products.
No wonder that banks aren’t lending to SMEs.
In the meantime large business are estimated to be sitting on £700 million of cash reserves in readiness for funding development and growth.
What are small businesses supposed to do?
Firstly, there are other sources of finance besides the banks and K2 has a free, comprehensive guide to the options. You can find it at http://www.k2finance.co.uk
Secondly, and more importantly given the prospect of over trading as the recovery gathers pace, now is the time to ensure that the business model is right to fund growth and avoid running out of cash.
Advice from restructuring professionals is not exclusive to when a company is insolvent.  Their experience and solutions can also be used to help SMEs grow.

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Business Development & Marketing General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Turning around SMEs for growth

Signs of an economic recovery seem to be feeding through into increased confidence among chief financial officers of some of the UK’s largest companies, according to the latest quarterly survey from Deloitte, which has put the appetite for risk at a six-year high.
The findings, reported in Monday’s business section of the Telegraph, found that 54% of financial officers believed it was a good time to take risk onto their companies’ balance sheets.
This is all well and good, given that many of these companies have been sitting on an estimated stash of £700 billion in cash, but what about the SME sector?
There has been no sign of any improvement in lending to this sector as we have heard repeatedly in recent weeks, yet they are seen as essential to a sustained economic recovery.
So what can they do if they don’t have either the reserves or the borrowing capability to take to take advantage of the signs of recovery?
Many SMEs have been hanging on, managing cash flow and paying down debt wherever possible but if they are to grow they need to make sure they are in the best possible shape and this may be exactly the time when a restructuring expert should be called in to take a thorough look at their business model and whether it is possible to free up some of the cash currently going to creditors.
Quick, skilled teamwork by turnaround professionals does not have to be used only when a company is insolvent.  The techniques can also be used to put SMEs into the best position to plan for growth. But they need a consensual approach involving all stakeholders as we say in this article in the Turnaround Supplement just published by the Daily Telegraph here.

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

Growth will not come from betting on certainties

Financially speaking we are living in a risk averse world post 2008.
This may be understandable but in a globally connected and highly competitive world UK businesses need to innovate if they want to survive and prosper.
It’s a point that British inventor Trevor Baylis OBE, inventor of the wind-up radio in the early 90s, emphasises in calling for the importance of innovation and invention to be taught in schools in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.
Invention is also in the spotlight this week with the announcement by the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s 2013 winner of the annual Faraday Award. The winner was Sir Michael Pepper, a professor of nanoelectronics at UCL whose work has pioneered development of an unhackable computer.
Other IET medallists are in the fields of supercomputing and research in bio-inspired technology that could lead to the first artificial pancreas.
All this takes money and commitment, and while there is some evidence from an analysis of company tax receipts by national accountants UHY Hacker Young showing that investment in R & D in 2012 was 8% higher than in 2011 thanks to increased tax relief on research spending it is still less than 2% of economic output.
But how many SMEs are likely to be able to take advantage of this or have the resources to put into development and innovation when they are still facing an uphill struggle to raise finance from banks unwilling to lend to them?
Indeed banks like most of the lenders coming into the market to replace them, want security over assets which does not allow for innovation.
Many are unaware of other sources of finance and K2 has a comprehensive, free, downloadable guide to sources of business finance available at http://www.k2finance.co.uk

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General Insolvency Interim Management & Executive Support Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Turning around the economic juggernaut means restoring SMEs’ confidence

Business Secretary Vince Cable warned at the LibDem conference that rebuilding the economy was going to be a long process requiring investment in business, in research and in training people in the skills that will be needed in the future.
We are also told, repeatedly, that SMEs are the primary engine for the country’s growth.
The trouble is that SMEs’ confidence has been knocked for six over the last five years, not least because despite innumerable Government initiatives they have time and again been refused lending by the banks. The most recent figures on the Funding for Lending scheme published earlier this month showed that lending to businesses and consumers had fallen by £2.3 billion since June 2012.
Now the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB ) has produced research showing just how beleaguered SMEs are feeling with more than 56% of those polled believing that the banks just do not care about them and more than a third reporting sharply increased bank fees over the last year. Very few of those polled knew that it is possible to appeal against a bank’s refusal of a loan application.
Worse still only 37% of those polled were aware of alternative sources of lending, such as crowd funding. 
K2 has a comprehensive, free, downloadable guide to sources of business finance available at http://www.k2finance.co.uk . The FSB has also launched a guide, How to Get a Bank Loan, which also covers appealing against refusal, switching banks and other finance options.

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

Further evidence that a safe pare of hands is not enough for growth

Some new figures on attitudes to innovation from Price Waterhouse Cooper reinforce the point that growth will not come from being risk averse and hoarding cash.
In the UK the most innovative top fifth of companies grew 50% faster than the bottom fifth and, more alarmingly, the survey found that in the UK just 32% of companies regarded innovation as very important, compared with 46% of German and 59% of Chinese companies. Just 16% of UK companies planned to prioritise product innovation in the coming year compared with almost 33% globally.
Further proof, if it were needed, that, while it would of course be foolish to be complacent about economic recovery, the risk-taking, innovative manager is needed more at this point in the cycle than the risk-averse accountant.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

It’s the political silly season again

The first shots are being fired in the annual round of party conference one-up-manship with Chancellor Osborne claiming that the economy is “turning a corner”.
Oh really?
It may look like that in London thanks to a rapidly inflating property bubble but out here in SME world even to say “turning a corner” may prove to be premature.
Monday saw publication of a survey by the FSB that had found 47% of its members had been refused loans in the last three months and 56% felt that banks did not care about SMEs, the much vaunted “engine for growth”.
On the same day, with the Banking Reform Bill due for debate this week, the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association warned that requiring banks to improve their leverage ratio (money lent out in relation to capital reserves) could “do more harm than good”. Contrast this with Sir John Vickers, who was involved in drawing up post-crisis reforms to the banking sector and his arguing that the suggested ratios are still way too low and risky. Sounds like joined up banking!
In addition the banks are facing an estimated £10 billion in potential payouts to businesses mis-sold interest rate protection and hedging products. Other news such as the trade gap (between imports and exports) doubling in July and questions about where the demand will come from all challenge the notion of ‘green shoots’.
Businesses, like consumers, are under increasing pressure from rising prices, and continue to focus on cash flow.  While there may be a bit more optimism around it plainly has not yet translated into anything as definitive as turning a corner.
Lies, damn lies and statistics!

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

A safe pair of hands does not include plans for growth

UK companies are reportedly hoarding as much as £700 billion in cash. Despite this, business investment grew by just 1.7% in June, according to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, in his first speech to businesses in Nottingham.
It appears that businesses are still not confident of sustained economic recovery, and this may be understandable following the shock waves after the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008.
When times are hard the general rule is to put an accountant in charge as they will basically hoard a company’s cash.  Accountants are generally pretty risk averse and when the emphasis is on controlling cash flow they are a mainstay of business survival.
But at what point in the cycle should companies start to look at investment and growth for future profits? And at what point should accountants take a back seat and hand over to someone else?
In UK we tend to be slow to adapt to changes in the market. Let’s face it no one will criticise managers for not losing money. Only too late will shareholders realise they have been left behind.
We are still pursuing a strategy of hoarding cash when perhaps the time has come to shift from pessimism to optimism and at the very least we should be planning for growth. Now is the time for carrying out market research, modest investments, testing markets and building capacity for growth. 
We need managers with courage, managers who value mistakes and will learn from them, managers who know how to grow businesses.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Business pain in a recovering economy

There are two things happening that suggest that signs of economic recovery are believable, rather than government spin.
The first is the narrowing of the trade gap with a significant growth in exports in June and the second is a 10% rise in business insolvencies (compulsory and creditors’ voluntary insolvencies) in the quarter from April to June 2013 (3,978) compared with January to March (3,601).  However, there were actually slightly fewer insolvencies this year when compared with the same quarter in 2012.
Insolvencies generally do increase when an economy is coming out of recession because creditors normally start to lose patience and begin recovering debt when they can see signs of a rising market.
This time, however, I believe something else is going on.
Firstly, for more than two years now businesses have been focusing on paying down debt so why should creditors suddenly lose patience? Secondly, it may be that HMRC is taking a tougher line on collection of arrears now.
But most importantly now that the owners and directors of businesses can see the future more clearly, and there is greater optimism around, they are starting to restructure their businesses because clearly any future growth is not going to be fuelled by business lending.
It is perhaps no bad thing that growth is likely to be slow and steady and will be achieved by businesses ensuring they have enough working capital, by imposing tough payment terms on customers and suppliers and by everyone in the supply chain working together.
The worrying thing is that in other circles there is still too much reliance on a consumer-led recovery and that exports to non-EU countries were lower, playing no part in the narrowing of the trade gap.

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

Relying on consumers for restored economic growth is madness

Moderate improvements in economic activity, upwardly revised growth forecasts for the rest of 2013 and now, Bank of England figures showing increased lending to small businesses in June are to be welcomed.
Certainly coupled with a few sporting triumphs and some hot, sunny days this has all been seen as good news by politicians and some media commentators.
But look a little more closely and actually many of the figures given are still well below pre-2008 levels. In the case of SME borrowing records only began in 2011 and lending has been falling since 2009. SME borrowing may have risen a little in June but compared with a year earlier according to the BoE it is still declining, by 3.3% on the same period last year. One monthly swallow does not make a summer.
Sensible businesses are still watching their cash flow, consumer debt may be falling but is still believed to be unsustainably high, yet everyone seems to be jumping on the optimism bandwagon. Most recently the EU’s Gfk/NOP indicator is suggesting that consumer sentiment will continue to pick up.
Haven’t we been here before?  As the Telegraph’s City AM editor Allister Heath pointed out a week or so back, lessons have not been learned if everyone is relying on credit-fuelled consumer-led growth via increased activity in the housing market and rising house prices, fuelled by the Help to Buy scheme.
Isn’t it also true that our economic difficulties are where they are precisely because of a house price bubble and too much credit pre-2008? Plainly there are still lessons not yet learned.

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

One – or two – swallows do not make a summer

Following on from the demise of Jessups the camera retailers the news that HMV had finally called in the administrators comes as no surprise.
What is perhaps more surprising is that a couple of commentators have seized on this development as perhaps an early sign that banks are feeling more confident about surviving losses and that better times are on the way in 2013 on the grounds that there is usually a rise in insolvencies as an economy starts to recover.
The more realistic view, K2 would say, is that insolvencies are still at a very low level and it is way too early for anyone to be so optimistic.
More likely, and there has been plenty of evidence in the cases of Comet, Jessup’s and HMV, is that their business models have been found wanting in the new world of consumer caution, shopping around for the best prices and the move to online shopping.
With a raft of year-end reports due out this week, including Mothercare, Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase), Bookers, and Asos the picture will gradually become clearer.  One to watch is Mothercare, which did alter its business model last year to focus more on out of town retail stores rather than the High Street. This measure does seem rather late, being at least 10 years after others took the same initiative. The question will be whether Mothercare has done enough to survive without further and more dramatic restructuring.
While the pain is most obvious on the High Street, reduced consumption, changing consumer behaviour and inappropriate business models apply to many businesses that have not yet gone bust. There is no sign yet of a lift in bank confidence as they continue to prop up zombie companies rather than lending to companies wanting to change their business model or new ones with a vision and growth potential.
For the foreseeable future, businesses would be wise to examine their business models and if necessary to implement change early rather than put it off as restructuring becomes more difficult the longer it is left.  This is still no market for dramatic moves to improve turnover.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors General Turnaround

Norman Tebbitt said “Get on Your Bikes”, we Say “Get on a Plane”

Optimism has been in short supply as 2011 comes to its end and businesses will need to be even more innovative and proactive if they are to survive and grow in the face of the gloomy economic predictions of stagnation for the next few years.
The ONS says industrial production fell by 0.7% in October in contrast to a rise of 1.7% in October 2010. The OBS downgraded its growth forecast for this year from 1.7 per cent to 0.9 per cent and from 2.5 per cent to 0.7 per cent for 2012 and the OECD predicted that the eurozone economy will shrink by 1% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and then by 0.4% in the first quarter of next year.
By contrast to the above, HMRC’s latest figures for UK exports show non-EU exports grew in September by £0.4 billion (3.4%) more than August while exports for the EU increased by £1.6 billion (13.4%).  September’s non EU exports were worth £11.3 billion and the month’s exports to the eurozone were worth £13.6 billion.
Although both figures show a slight improvement on August 50% of UK exports go to the eurozone.  Given the ongoing turmoil in the eurozone it would be foolish for UK business to continue to rely so heavily on Europe being able to continue taking such a large share of UK exports, let alone support any growth.
Currently the UK imports more than it exports and the trade gap with areas both inside and outside the eurozone is increasing both monthly and year on year.
Investing in UK businesses has become too much like bank lending. Instead we need a culture that rewards risk-taking and celebrates those who profit from risking their own capital. Most people in the UK want to invest in land and property as a long-term safe haven for their capital. Neither the culture, nor the tax incentives encourage us to invest in exciting business ventures. We are not encouraged to be adventurous for the future of UK plc. Ideally set up some meetings before travelling but you really do need to get on a plane if you want to find new customers.
UK businesses in both manufacturing and service sectors have become too reliant on the domestic market and need to look overseas, well beyond Europe. We should revive some of the spirit of our Victorian forefathers.
In an echo of former MP Norman Tebbitt’s famous advice to the unemployed to “get on your bikes” K2 says businesses should “get on a plane”.
We need pioneering Business Heroes prepared to explore foreign lands and open up new markets to sell our goods and services to countries that have potential for real economic growth. Are we still hoping that business will come to us? The world has changed and we must go out and start finding it.
Regime change in North Africa and the Middle East offers some terrific opportunities, while elsewhere, such as the BRIC countries, people are thirsting for the standard of living that we take for granted.
To those readers who are saying “yes, but…” to this argument, the reply is: “our forefathers conquered the world.  They took risks and it’s time we started taking some ourselves. We need to rediscover our spirit of adventure.”

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General Insolvency Liquidation, Pre-Packs & Phoenix Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Falling Confidence Among SMEs Supports Evidence of a Long L-Shaped Recession

Recently released insolvency figures show relatively little change year on year, suggesting that the debate about whether the recession would be a V-, U-, W-, or an L-shape Is now over.
It is four years since the economy collapsed and the evidence is piling up that it is flatlining. Whatever the technical definition for coming out of recession may be (ie two successive quarters of growth), a growth of 0.2% for the UK economy means it continues to bump along the bottom of an L-shaped economic decline, whether it is called a recession or not.
Had the recent decline followed the pattern of previous ones the numbers of insolvent companies would by now be climbing noticeably, as they are generally held to do when an economy is on the road to recovery.
However, the latest CBI quarterly survey shows a sharp decline in confidence among small and medium sized businesses, reporting flat domestic orders in Q3 and export orders down by 8%. They expected domestic orders to fall by another 4% in the final quarter, no growth in exports and were indicating intentions of reducing their stock holdings – hardly suggestive of any optimism there.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the just released quarterly insolvency figures is the noticeable increase in the number of Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) relative to the numbers of companies in Administration as going concern formal insolvency procedures. Compared to the same quarter last year, CVAs rose by 29.6%, while Administrations rose by only 6.3% perhaps reflecting the adverse publicity over the use of Pre-Pack Administrations.
Many commentators are predicting a lot of insolvencies lining up for the end of Q4. Since a rise in insolvencies traditionally indicates the emergence from recession, perversely, this suggests that they are being optimistic rather than pessimistic.
But if the economy doesn’t recover and there is a rise in corporate insolvencies, this will be truly damaging for the UK. There is a huge difference between insolvency to restructure a business to prepare it for growth and insolvency to close it down.
Continuing low interest rates and no discernible evidence of banks or other creditors really piling on the pressure, nor any sign of the restructuring that normally indicates the bottom of a recession, plus the plummeting confidence of the country’s SMEs, suggest that the economy will bump along the bottom Japanese-style for the foreseeable future at best or will decline further at worst.

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General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Bring Back Pride in Non-Academic Skills

August may traditionally be the “silly season” but last month the news did not stop rolling with turmoil on the world’s markets, the A level results and furious debates about the causes and consequences of the UK riots.
We argue that it is time for some joined-up thinking, as there is a connection between the three.
First, the markets: growth, even in the EU’s so-called engine of growth, Germany, was revealed to be near-stagnant in Q2 and UK Growth has been near stagnant for the last three quarters. The UK unemployment figures for the same quarter rose by more than 38,000 and the youth unemployment rate rose to 20.2%, from 20%. All this has prompted fears of a double dip recession, a return of pessimism among UK employers and turmoil on the markets.
Economic recovery is supposed to depend on manufacturing, exports and crucially growth in the UK’s small business sector. However, a new British Chambers of Commerce survey of 2,200 SMEs employing fewer than 10 people, has revealed that while more than 55% were actively recruiting, they were held back by a lack of sufficiently skilled applicants and only 22% said they would feel confident that a school-leaver with A-levels or equivalent would have the necessary skills for their business.
Secondly, following the A level results, it was revealed that approaching 200,000 candidates were seeking a university place through clearing and only an estimated 30,000 places were likely to be available. What happens to those who are unable to get a place?
Finally, the riots and their causes: as the culprits have been wheeled through the courts it has become clear that the overwhelming majority have been under the age of 25, half of them under age 18, and all living in some of the most deprived areas of the country, young people who are unlikely to go to university but, worse, have little hope of acquiring the skills they need to get any kind of job.
K2 argues that the focus of successive governments on pushing more and more young people through university has devalued both the degree itself and the more practical vocations and trades on which economic recovery depends.
According to the REC although more than 250,000 apprenticeships were created in the last financial year this figure includes a big increase in short-term apprenticeships – often taken up by those already in employment and a greater number of these positions have gone to the over 25s. training and being used as a source of cheap labour.
Career advice for young people has also all but disappeared. New figures published by the public service union UNISON showed only 15 out of 144 councils still run a full careers service after implementation of government cuts.
The most crucial need is to restore the pride and aspirations of those young people who perhaps would not benefit from a university education so that they believe that they can both earn a living and use their practical skills to contribute to economic recovery and growth.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Debt Collection & Credit Management General Insolvency Personal Guarantees Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Voluntary Arrangements - CVAs

Latest insolvency stats suggest Zombie companies are still hanging on

The latest Insolvency stats suggest that Zombie Businesses are holding back the UK Economy.
A summary of the Q2 2011 UK insolvency statistics shows: Compulsory Liquidations up; Voluntary Liquidations down; Administrations down and CVAs static.
Against a background of slowing growth over the last three quarters of the UK economy, perhaps the picture of what has been going on is becoming clearer.
Unlike most insolvency and turnaround practitioners, I do not believe that we will soon be busy restructuring the large number of over-leveraged businesses.
I believe businesses are putting off restructuring and will do so for as long as possible, at least while the economy is uncertain. Historically insolvencies have increased during the upturn after the bottom of a recession, when business prospects can be predicted. Right now it is not clear if we have reached the bottom and if there will be any growth, let alone how much, or if the market will flatline for some time.
One set of figures, the increase in compulsory liquidations, does indicate a level of frustration over companies not taking action to deal with their debts. Creditors are becoming impatient with directors who are putting off restructuring and starting to force their hand by issuing a winding up petition. But even these figures are very low.
The tragedy is that without restructuring, a great many so called ‘Zombie businesses’, lack optimism to plan for the future. They have run down their stock levels, cut staff to the bone, do limited marketing, are not investing nor looking for growth opportunities let alone looking abroad and are not laying foundations for their future.
The lack of optimism is resulting in quality and service levels being in decline and as a result they are holding back economic recovery because they are not investing in it.

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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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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Saving the High Street

Retail pain continues with the news that Mothercare is to close a third of its 373 UK stores.
JJB Sports has just announced losses 0f £181.4 million for the year to 30 January 2011, three times the previous year’s loss of £68.6 million and plan to close 89 of their 247 stores over the next two years.
And HMV has just had to sell Waterstone’s for £53 million to pay down some of its £170 million of debt. In addition, they also propose to close 40 stores.
Oddbin’s too, has gone like most other wine retail chains, following its failed attempt to agree a restructuring plan with creditors, which was rejected by HMRC.
Plainly there is a major earthquake taking place on the High Street, and it is not all about cutbacks in consumer spending. More importantly retail purchasing is changing. Consumers are becoming sharper shoppers by looking elsewhere, not just in the High Street.  They are visiting dedicated retail parks combining shopping and leisure to offer an experience, entertainment and convenience in one place and are also increasing their online spending.
The government has recently asked Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to take a look at the country’s High Streets and come up with suggestions for rescuing them, clearly hoping to find a way of rejuvenating this part of the UK economy.
She may well conclude that the competition from shopping and leisure centres with their easy access via car and public transport is too much and that the High Street can survive but only if it offers something different.
Locals still like to buy from local shops that provide a personal service, ideally selling local produce such as farm-sourced. This ought to support retailers like the grocer who lets you taste a piece of cheese before you buy, independent butchers who will advise, trim or even marinate meat and local bakers. Pubs, restaurants and cafes that cater for families, young people, the elderly all play their part in supporting community, even the self-help run library. But for the High Street to avoid further decline, everyone needs to work together and this will require leadership.
You never know, the High Street may be once again be a place where shopping is an enjoyable experience, but what will it look like?

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

The Deadline for Repaying Bank Bail-out Money Implies Continued Pressure on Business Lending

British banks have until 31 January 2012 to pay back the money made available to them by the Bank of England since April 2008 through its Special Liquidity Scheme, the support that was provided following the temporary public ownership of Northern Rock in the UK, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US and the onset of the global economic recession.
Where is this money is going to come from? The likely answer is from businesses and customers. While banks are likely to borrow some money via issuing corporate bonds in the marketplace it is unlikely there will be much inter-bank lending.
So it is reasonable to assume that banks will make up the difference by withdrawing money from the marketplace, that is from businesses and individuals from repayment of loans and overdrafts.  In addition to reducing existing loans, it will be difficult for banks to find new money for lending and businesses and other borrowers will find it harder to agree loans, and even if they are successful will find that repayment terms will be stricter and more costly.
The amounts involved are almost too big to imagine.  The amount due to be repaid is £185 billion which is similar to the combined value of the UK’s four leading banks (LloydsTSB, Barclays, HSBC and RBS).
At the same time the banks know they face tighter regulation on lending and capital reserves under new regulations, called Basel III, from the world’s banking regulator. Meeting these new requirements will require banks to raise substantial amounts of fresh capital placing further burden on the lending market.
At the same time the Government has now introduced a series of measures, including a rise in VAT, higher National Insurance Contributions and public sector cuts, aimed at reducing the country’s budget deficit.  The bulk of businesses on which the economy depends are small traders and entrepreneurs and if they are experiencing a combination of higher costs and tightly restricted lending they cannot plan for growth and increasing the profits they would need to be able to expand and in fact should be focusing on cash management and cash flow in order to survive.
It is difficult to see how a long gentle decline can be avoided in these circumstances, when the fact is that the banks must find the money for repayment somewhere. Double dip recession?

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Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Survival sometimes needs Fundamental Change

Any successful business would be expected to be constantly monitoring its activities and modifying them where necessary to improve the efficiency and its various offers.
Continuous business improvement does two things: it optimises existing processes and keeps them optimal by continually updating them. 
But on its own, especially when there are significant challenges in the wider economy, such as the current global economic downturn, continuous improvement may not be enough.
Such unexpected challenges can plunge a business into difficulties where its survival may be at stake and this may mean looking at a fundamental change to the way it operates.
Too often businesses struggling to survive, are characterised by hard work and trying to improve the existing business model before they fail.  Business improvement is all about laying foundations, tweaking the system and improving. 
In my view fundamental change is a more radical look at the whole operation but it also needs care to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater by looking hard at the business and what needs to be preserved in order to survive and grow in the future. However, if a business tries to grow before bedding in new foundations following fundamental change it will reinforce problems that had not been sorted out.
For example in a downturn it is an understandable reaction for a business to trim its costs when it may be better to have an in-depth look at its business model and be open to more radical changes.
This can all seem too much when a company’s directors are struggling to keep a business afloat at a difficult time.  It is possible to be too close to the problem, however, and a combination of worry and a sense of urgency is not ideal for taking an objective look at the whole business model.
This is where calling on a business turnaround adviser could make all the difference between success and failure.  The adviser is motivated to help a business succeed and will expect to work with committed managers and staff, but they are not so immersed in the day to day minutiae of the operation and can therefore look at all aspects of the business, identify what is viable, what processes are draining the company and what actions can be taken.

Categories
General HM Revenue & Customs, VAT & PAYE Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Are Government Insolvency Statistics Concealing the Number of Insolvent Companies?

As a consequence of the global financial crisis it is reasonable to assume that the numbers of companies in financial difficulties serious enough to precipitate insolvency would be increasing.
However, figures for the second quarter of this year released by the UK Insolvency Service in August show that there were 2,080 companies in England and Wales that were placed into liquidation.
These are made up of compulsory liquidations and creditors voluntary liquidations and showed a 0.5% increase on the previous quarter but a decrease of 19.1% on the same quarter in 2009.
Compulsory liquidations were down 9.9% on the previous quarter and 21.0% on the corresponding quarter in 2009, while creditor voluntary liquidations were up 5.4% compared with the previous quarter but down 18.3% compared to the same quarter in 2009.
It would be tempting to infer from these figures that the economy is beginning to recover and the pressure on companies is easing.
It is possible, however, that the decline in liquidations is concealing the number of companies in financial difficulties because of a lack of pressure from creditors other than the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs ), the only active creditor currently seeking winding up orders in the courts.
The Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in October may reveal the full impact on UK insolvencies.
Even if the UK avoids a double dip recession, there is a risk that the UK economy could develop a twin track economy, with public-sector-dependent industries facing higher levels of financial distress than sectors which are less directly linked to government spending cuts.
Some commentators argue that while Corporate insolvencies are still well below the numbers that would normally be expected at this point in the cycle the slight quarterly rise in the number of liquidations may signal that conditions are starting to turn against UK companies once again.
The lower than expected number of insolvencies is ascribed to a variety of proactive measures, HMRC Time to Pay arrangements and bank forbearance, together buying time for companies to deal with their financial situation. However, this may perhaps have only delayed the inevitable for others that are less robust or those that fail to use the time by taking remedial action to reduce costs or implement other steps that ensures survival.