Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Account Preservation plans in aspic for now

Government opt-out safeguards UK rescue culture

The Government has announced that it will opt out of European Commission plans to introduce a cross-border debt recovery tool that would have damaged the UK's business rescue culture. The European Account Preservation Order (EAPO) would have given courts anywhere in the EU the power to freeze funds in UK business' bank accounts without warning. R3, the leading insolvency trade association, had criticised plans to introduce the EAPO on the basis that it would give individual creditors the power to jeopardise the chances of business turnaround by starving companies of cash when they need it most. The UK is widely considered to be at the forefront of business turnaround and rescue and it was feared that the loose drafting of the EAPO would stifle attempts to rescue companies, leading to lower returns to creditors and damaging the wider economy.

The Government opt out is not a surprise as the Commons Select Committee on European Scrutiny had flagged up concerns regarding the EAPO during the summer. The Committee noted that, "Although the Government supports the principle of an European Account Preservation Order, we understand from recent communication with departmental officials that the Government thinks the text, as currently drafted, goes too far in favouring the rights of creditors at the expense of debtors." In particular, it was felt that there was insufficient requirement to demonstrate that there was a risk of assets being disposed of or concealed, meaning that applications could be made regardless of whether the situation merited the use of the EAPO.

This looks like a sensible approach: it is important to ensure that assets are handled properly at all stages of business recovery. But safeguarding assets must be balanced by the need to ensure that a company has the best chance of being rescued as a going concern, in order to save jobs, minimise the effect on supply chains and trading partners, and maximise the return to creditors.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What a wind up

Increase in number of firms being wound up by creditors

Insolvency statistics published today by the government’s Insolvency Service reveal that there has been a sharp increase in the number of firms being wound up by creditors in the past three months. The number of compulsory liquidations, where a creditor asks the courts to close down a business due to non-payment of debts, increased by nearly 20% compared to the previous quarter.

This looks like a worrying trend, showing that many firms are struggling to pay their way in the continuing economic gloom. Creditors are becoming impatient – many will be suffering with their own financial problems - and they are increasingly prepared to follow through on threats to wind up businesses that cannot afford to pay their bills.

Whilst it may be tempting to keep making promises of payment to creditors, when those promises are broken, the consequences can be catastrophic. The good news is that there are ways of dealing with mounting debts that will allow the company to continue and the sooner that a business owner takes advice, the more palatable the options that are available.

In particular, a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) can be put in place with the help of a licensed insolvency practitioner to protect the company from legal action whilst a turnaround plan is followed, allowing a company to recover from its cash-flow problems. In recent months, Moorhead Savage has set up three CVAs for businesses in the Sheffield City Region, safeguarding dozens of jobs in the process.

If you would like to chat about how we can help your business, call me today on 01709 331300.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Consultation leads to more... consultation

Bankruptcy and winding up petitions threshold may rise

The Government has announced a consultation on raising the level of debt that is required for a bankruptcy petition to be lodged at court. Currently, there must be debts of at least £750 before a creditor can petition for bankruptcy. This limit has remained the same for bankruptcy and winding up petitions since the Insolvency Act was brought into force in 1987 so it does seem overdue for review: £750 in 1987 was a considerable sum in real terms, in comparison to today.

R3, the leading insolvency trade body, has suggested that the limit should be raised to £3,000 for both bankruptcy and winding up petitions. The impact of this would be to limit the ability of creditors to use the draconian threat of bankruptcy (or winding up for companies) to enforce relatively low levels of debt. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that local authorities are increasingly using bankruptcy petitions to enforce unpaid Council Tax liabilities, typically of less than £2,000.

This move was first suggested by David Cameron during the election campaign in January 2010 (see my earlier blog post about this) and today's announcement follows a more wide-ranging consultation on consumer finance and debt issues. It is unfair to suggest that this is the only interesting announcement to come out of the consultation, but the reality is that the Government's response to the consultation was to say that generally things are going OK and they will just keep an eye on everything and, guess what, there is more consultation planned.

To me, this suggests that the coalition Government has bigger fish to fry at the moment and they are kicking consumer debt and personal finance topics into the long grass until public sector cutbacks, defence spending reveiws, the pullout from Afghanistan, Libyan air operations, the Euro zone debt crisis and the News International affair are under control. Or until the media decides that consumer debt and personal finance and finance is the hot topic.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shops 'til they drop

What has caused the sudden wave of retail insolvencies?

It has been a bad few days for retailers. A number of well-known names have succumbed to the effects of the retail slow-down, with Jane Norman and Habitat appointing administrators, TJ Hughes reportedly on the brink of entering administration and an announcement from chocolatier Thorntons that they intend to close up to half of their high street shops.This has come in the wake of retail figures for May that showed sales had slumped by 1.4%, reversing an increase of 1.1% the previous month.

Many retailers have been struggling for some time to keep their heads above water, with shoppers choosing to put off major purchases in the face of increasing economic uncertainty. Increasing food and fuel prices have hit consumers hard and many are concerned about job insecurity. The easy availability of credit that stoked the high street spending boom of the last decade is long gone. Shops have suffered from poor cashflow and slim margins, particularly where they are servicing high levels of borrowing.

But why the sudden wave of insolvencies? Traditionally, landlords collect rental payments from their tenants on a quarterly basis, in advance. The end of June sees another 'quarter day' when many retailers' rents will fall due for payment. With little opportunity to re-let shops to new tenants, landlords will be tempted to enforce harshly the terms of their existing leases, to prevent a melt-down of rental income. However, if landlords fail to work with their tenants when times are hard, they face the possibility of losing their tenant altogether if the tenant becomes insolvent. By using an administration procedure, struggling retailers are protected from their landlords taking action to lock them out whilst a new buyer is found, and a potential purchaser will often have the upper hand in any negotiations over future rents.

And what effect will this have on suppliers? When large firms become insolvent, they often leave many small suppliers high and dry, with little or no prospect of repayment. This can have a knock-on effect on their viability, and I'm afraid that many smaller businesses may be hit hard by the failure of these high street names.

But as always, the message is that help is at hand, and the sooner that advice is sought, the more palatable the options will be. Just because a major customer has let you down, it doesn't have to mean the end of your business as well. Call Paul Moorhead of Moorhead Savage today on 01709 331300 and find out what we can do to help.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No longer safe as houses?

More pain ahead for the property market

Latest figures released by the Bank of England have shown that mortgage approvals in April dropped to their lowest level since records began in 1993. The reduction in lending is likely to cause more problems in the housing market, with Morgan Stanley predicting that house prices will fall 10% by the end of 2012.

Not only is this bad news for homeowners, but it may also start to cause further problems in the beleagured banking sector. Many banks are still massively exposed to moves in house prices, due to mortgage deals arranged during the last decade. In particular, The Telegraph reported that Lloyds TSB may be hard hit, with up to one quarter of its mortgage customers in negative equity by 2012. Analysts suggested that this could mean that mortgages totalling up to £90 billion were potentially affected, at this one bank alone.

However, as always, statistics can tell a thousand different stories and the Council of Mortgage Lenders issued a prediction that 'net' mortgage lending (stripping out redemptions and repayments) would actually rise during 2011 to £9 billion, up from £8 billion last year. This may sound like a lot of money, certainly enough to keep the current Mrs Moorhead in the manner to which she would like to become accustomed. But in 2006, the last year that mortgage lending rose, the total lending was £110 billion. That's right, £110 billion. So we are currently running at about 8.2% of 2006 mortgage lending levels. No wonder the housing market is in the doldrums, but also no wonder that so many homeowners, and banks, found themselves in seriously deep water.

As ever, when money matters go wrong, we can help. My number is 01709 331300.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interesting times ahead?

Rising inflation raises concerns over interest rates

The UK Consumer Price Index annual rate of inflation rose to 4.5% in April 2011, its highest level since October 2008, according to figures released today. This has led to speculation that the Bank of England may raise interest rates in the coming months, causing more problems for struggling businesses.

A survey carried out by R3 found that many business owners are predicting that any rise in interest rates will have a serious impact on their business, with 7% of small business owners believing that they are likely to become insolvent if interest rates rise to between 2% and 3.5%. If rates climb to between 4% and 5%, the number of businesses at risk increases to 18%. The base rate was 5% in 2007.

The Office for National Statistics reported that inflation rose to 4.4% in February 2011, followed by a slight fall to 4% in March before increasing to 4.5% in April, way above the Bank of England’s target of 2%, which is likely to put pressure on the Monetary Policy Committee to increase rates.

Many commentators have suggested that historically low interest rates have helped to keep the number of business failures artificially low in recent months as debt interest payments are tied to the base rate for many businesses. However any increase in the cost of borrowing is likely to have an adverse effect on cash flow and may be the last straw for many ailing businesses.

Consumers will also feel the impact of any rise in interest rates as the cost of mortgages increases. An increase of two percentage points, whilst still low in historic terms, would add £166 per month to the cost of a £100,000 mortgage.

Rising prices put additional pressure on businesses and individuals, and increasing costs are likely to damage any fragile signs of recovery, adding to the finacial problems of many.

Moorhead Savage has the expertise and experience to help sort out financial problems - even when things seem bleak. For a free, no obligation consultation and an unbiased summary of which solutions are right for you, call Paul Moorhead today on 01709 331300. It's always good to talk.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good news!

Sound advice saves jobs

Advice from Moorhead Savage has helped to save around 50 jobs in the Sheffield City Region in the first quarter of 2011.

Three companies working in hospitality, construction and manufacturing, approached us at the start of the New Year convinced that they were facing bankruptcy and closure.

But we were able to explain to them that steps could be taken that would save them from closure and their workforce for unemployment.

Last year Government figures suggested there were fewer smaller businesses going into liquidation but we knew than many were hanging on and hoping for good things at the start of 2011.When the better times failed to materialise, these companies approached us, fearing they were on the brink of closure, with a future that looked simply too bleak.

But in all three cases, the business owners didn’t have any awareness of the options that were available to help turn their businesses around.

The answer in all three cases was a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure that allows a financially troubled company to reach a binding agreement with its creditors about payment of all, or part of, its debts over an agreed period of time.

It was good to be able to explain to all three companies that there are ways of keep a business going with the support of creditors.

A CVA can be the key to giving the best possible outcome for everybody involved because it is nearly always in the best interest of everybody, including creditors, if a business can continue to operate. If a company were simply to go down, the assets would probably not pay the creditors or make an meaningful impact on the debt. Even more importantly, by helping these companies to enter into CVAs, we were able to help safeguard 50 jobs which, in a climate like this, has to be the best news of all.

For advice on all financial problems call the team at Moorhead Savage on 01709 331 300.