The latest insolvency figures reveal a worrying trend for some businesses sectors

Road sign to liquidation or insolvencySMEs in the supply chain sectors that particularly rely on consumer spending should pay heed to the latest insolvency figures, for January to March 2017.

While the figures released by the Insolvency Service at the end of April show a relatively small increase by 4.5% compared with the last quarter of 2016, the trend has been upwards now for three consecutive quarters.

There were 2,693 Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations, 68% of 3,967 total insolvencies for the first three months of 2017, affecting particularly the construction and the wholesale and retail sectors.

Consumer confidence, inflation and import costs

As higher prices, particularly for food, have started to feed through into the shops, there have been signs of a weakening in consumer confidence and a slowdown in spending.

While the “headline” story since the New Year has been the demise of 28 large retailers including Jaeger, Agent Provocateur, Brantano and Jones Bootmaker, the implications are clear for those businesses involved in the wholesale supply chain, many of them relatively small SMEs.

Both KPMG and Begbies Traynor, have been monitoring the trends for companies in what they call “significant distress”.

Analysis by KPMG of notices in the London Gazette reveals that the numbers of companies entering administration are still relatively low, however Blair Nimmo, head of Restructuring, has identified a “steady creep in numbers that we’ve witnessed over the last 12 months”.

Begbies Traynor’s Red Flag Alert research for the first three months of 2017 has identified an increase in companies in distress, up by 26% on average over the past year in key sectors of the consumer-facing supply chain, with the Industrial Transportation & Logistics businesses up by 46%, the wholesale sector up by 16%, and the Food & Beverage Manufacturing sector up by 15%.

How do SMEs survive the growing insolvency headwinds?

Given the higher costs of raw materials imports due to the devaluation of £Sterling since the EU Referendum result, businesses will not be able to absorb all these costs and will have to pass them on to customers. This in turn is likely to reduce income for UK focused SMEs and lead to greater pressure on those that have high fixed costs.

As ever, it pays businesses to ensure they are as lean and fit as they can be and that means scrutinising their costs and reducing them wherever possible.

Regular monitoring of cashflow may reveal opportunities for cutting fixed costs and introducing efficiencies, for example outsourcing transport or automating activities such as accounting and invoicing. Another critical area for SMEs is to improve cash flow such as introducing more rigorous follow-up on late payments, and invoicing as soon as possible. Close attention to credit control and collaborating with other small suppliers can also help when dealing with larger customers and getting them to pay on time.

Above all, potentially vulnerable SMEs should not wait to get restructuring help and advice. An objective eye sooner rather than later and before a business is in crisis can make all the difference to survival.

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