No respite for the global economy as conditions get worse

brexit economy growth Nov 05, 2019

As we head towards the end of the year it is a good time to look at the current state of the global economy.

Trade wars and the threats of tariffs being imposed by the US on China have become a wearyingly familiar story as US President Donald Trump continues his policy of ‘putting the American economy first’ at all times. It is not just China in the firing line, the rhetoric has escalated with his threat made in October to introduce a series of 25% tariffs on a range of exports worth an estimated £5.8bn from the EU.

But this is not the only trade dispute in the global economy as Japan and South Korea’s disagreements threaten the production of smartphones, computers and other electronics, while yet another Brexit delay, and now a UK general election, all add to the uncertain economic outlook in both the EU and the UK.

Growth has been slowing in India, particularly in its automotive sector, and to an extent in China also.

At the same time there seems to have...

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Is your business one of the many just hanging on?

The newly-published insolvency figures for Q3 (July to September) show a massive increase in the number of businesses entering Administrations.

A mid-October report by Begbies Traynor reported that the number of British businesses in significant financial distress has risen by 40% since the Brexit vote – with those in the property, construction, retail and the travel sectors the hardest hit and 489,000 companies in significant distress up by 22,000 on this time last year.

This was followed by KPMG’s recent analysis of London Gazette notices of companies entering into Administration and the picture became clearer with yesterday’s statistics from the Insolvency Service.

Administrations increased by 20% in the last quarter, compared to the previous quarter, to reach their highest level since Q1 2014. CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations) rose by only 2.3% compared to the previous quarter but were still at their highest quarterly level since Q1 2012.

The...

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Why you should think 'Environment First' if you need an investor

The UK’s largest investors put environmental concerns and corporate governance issues as top of their lists when considering companies in which to invest, according to research by EY.

However, the respondents awarded a “could do better” to such areas as audit, corporate reporting, trust, and reputation, according to a report on the research published by CityAM.

Clearly the activities of campaigners like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have significantly raised awareness on environmental issues.

But the profile of environmental concerns is also being raised by the annual world summits on ethical finance, the most recent of which was held in Edinburgh in early September and was attended by senior representatives from more than 200 companies and organisations.

The summit is organised by the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, which oversees, organises and coordinates a series of programmes to promote finance for positive change.

In early October, Mark...

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Directors of companies in financial difficulties should be aware of their pay and perks!

Executive pay and perks have been creeping up the agenda with politicians and the public increasingly questioning the rewards given to top CEOs when companies fail.

But should this be done well before any potential failure and in particular when highly paid executives are seeking support for the restructuring and reorganisation initiatives that is necessary when their company is in financial difficulties?

Leadership involves setting an example and when the chips are down this means making demonstrable self-sacrifices.

This week, the Financial Times reported that Standard Chartered bank CEO Bill Winters may have his total pay cut and Namal Nawana will be leaving his CEO role at Smith & Nephew after less than a year after investors turned down his request to increase his $6m package to nearer $18m-$20m.

But it is not only executive pay that has come under fire, this is also true of pensions and other executive benefits.

In September the influential investor group IA (The...

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Is the death of Thomas Cook a sign of more to come in the travel industry?

failure insolvency Oct 22, 2019

Commentators have been quick to predict the death of the package holiday and in some cases of much of the travel industry following the demise of Thomas Cook in September.

But is this really the case?

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, argues that it is too soon to predict the demise of the travel industry, or indeed of package holidays.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph he says: “sales of holiday packages have grown faster than the economy every year for the past 10 years”.

There is no doubt, however, that technology has made a significant difference to the way people search, book and pay for their holidays.

Lundgren acknowledges that requirements and buying methods have changed significantly: “Rapid development in technology and AI, combined with a focus on data now allows the customer to find holidays suited to them online”.

Holiday companies, he said, needed to invest in technology to support customer interactions.

The tour...

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WeWork reminds us why we should not rely on charismatic leaders and the investment bank advisers who flatter them

This week the new management of WeWork the business space property rental company announced that it was preparing to axe 2,000, or 13%, of its workforce.

It has been calculated that up to 5,000, or a third, of the workforce will ultimately have to go.

This is the latest episode in an increasingly sorry saga, which last month saw its co-founder Adam Neumann step down as chief executive and relinquish control over the company. Mr Neumann also returned $5.9m worth of stock to the firm, which he had controversially received in exchange for his claim over the “We” trademark.

After announcing its intention to launch on the US stock market earlier in the year, the company, which has more than 500 locations in 29 countries, had to postpone its plans when its viability and corporate governance came under closer scrutiny.

The business, which was estimated to be worth some $47bn when the intended float was first unveiled has since had its credit rating downgraded by...

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‘Caveat Emptor’ Is peer to peer lending too risky for peers?

Peer to peer lending (P2P) enables individuals to obtain loans directly from other individuals, cutting out the financial institution as the middleman.

As such, the lack of trust in middlemen has seen the emergence of peer to peer lending platforms as an attractive proposition for retail investors in a climate of low interest rates because they can offer better rates thanks to the lower overheads associated with online businesses. The lower overheads are also related to not having to pay a middleman!

The platforms are generally a website or app that facilitates this alternate method of financing, where the first emerged in 2005 and was brought under FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulation in 2014.

However, the FCA has been criticised as being too “light touch” in its oversight following the collapse in May this year of UK property finance peer to peer firm Lendy with £160m in outstanding loans of which it has been calculated more than £90m are in...

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Recession, imminent or not is it time to ban the word?

brexit economy Oct 10, 2019

Recession is a word that has immense power, striking apprehension into the hearts of businesses, politicians and consumers alike.

Talk of a recession can also precipitate the very economic conditions that are so feared and it is worrying that the word is currently appearing regularly in the daily news media.

But is recession a useful concept especially in the context of increasing pressure to move to sustainable, rather than perpetual, economic growth, in order to combat climate change and global warming?

Should we keep growing?

The generally-accepted definition of a recession is, according to the Business Dictionary: a contraction in the GDP for six months (two consecutive quarters) or longer. It goes on to say: “Marked by high unemployment, stagnant wages, and fall in retail sales, a recession generally does not last longer than one year and is much milder than a depression. Although [they] are considered a normal part of a capitalist economy, there is no unanimity of...

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Sector update: have there been improvements in care home viability?

It hardly seems any time since I last assessed the viability of the UK’s care home sector, but in the light of recent developments with one of the UK’s largest providers it’s time for an update.

The last blog in December 2018 focused on the implications of the collapse of Southern Cross in 2011. This time it has been prompted by reports this month that Four Seasons, Britain’s second-largest private care home provider with around 320 sites and 22,000 staff, has confirmed it has failed to pay rent on time. It is being seen as a negotiating tactic in order to cut bills, but is this really the case?

Its latest troubles began in 2017 when its owner Terra Firma was unable to pay interest on its debts, most of which are owned by private equity firm H/2 Capital Partners who took control and have overseen the group since then.

The business, which has more than £700 million in debts, appointed Alvarez & Marsal as administrators...

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High Court CVA clarification for landlords

cva retail Oct 03, 2019

Recently in the High Court landlords challenged the validity of the CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) that was approved for the High Street Debenhams retail chain.

The store chain had announced that its restructuring plan based on the closure of 50 stores and rent reductions for up to 100 others.

Major shareholder Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct, had sought to challenge the CVA after the board of Debenhams rejected his offer to buy the chain for £200 million. His shareholding was wiped out when the company went private as part of the rescue and restructuring deal, which was approved by 80% of its landlords.

Although Ashley withdrew his own challenge to the CVA, he continued by backing a legal challenge from Combined Property Control Group (CPC) as landlords who owned several properties.

According to CMS Law the five grounds of the CPC challenge were:

Items 1, 2, 4 and 5 were rejected by the High Court, although item 3 was upheld, meaning that the landlord...

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