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“Corporate insolvencies at lowest level in four years” reports KPMG

12 August 2020

CORPORATE INSOLVENCIES dropped to their lowest point since 2016*, with 274 companies in the UK entering administration in the second quarter of 2020. That’s according to an analysis of notices in The Gazette by KPMG’s Restructuring practice. This represents a 28% fall from the year’s first three months.

The quarter was almost entirely a period of lockdown, with plummeting consumer spending and largely overlapping with a GDP fall of 19% (March-May estimate from the Office for National Statistics). 

Blair Nimmo, head of the Restructuring practice at KPMG in the UK, commented: “Clearly, Government measures have had a dramatic impact. The effect of putting parts of the private sector into a quarter of virtual hibernation has not just severed the link between a fall in economic activity and a rise in corporate insolvency, but it has flipped it on its head.”

Nimmo added: “Nonetheless, the picture of distress painted by the insolvency data is markedly COVID-19 shaped. Administrations in healthcare have dropped by 64%, which is a far greater extent than other sectors. This fall is only exceeded by that in the technology sector, in which administrations fell by 71%. This perhaps reflects the lockdown-related growth in the reliance on technology by consumers and businesses alike, putting tech more firmly than ever at the heart of many business’ operating models.” 

Further, Nimmo stated: “Conversely, passenger transport, which broadly refers to coach operators, is one of the few sectors to see a rise in insolvencies of 67%, highlighting that even the Government measures could not give sufficient headroom to some companies that were dependent on our ability to travel. The severity of the poor financial health of some in retail and casual dining is not reflected in these figures. These sectors were struggling pre-COVID-19 and what you’ve seen since the easing of lockdown as they emerge from hibernation is a raft of closures, CVA proposals and administrations. These are likely to continue and, indeed, accelerate as some of the Government support schemes wind down.”

Dramatic rise in numbers

A dramatic rise in insolvency numbers should be expected in the coming quarter, asserted Nimmo when looking ahead to the challenges facing business.

“Businesses are emerging into a quite different landscape. They may be required to navigate unforgiving territory, combining the withdrawal of Government support, local lockdowns, consumer caution and shrinking margins due to new Health and Safety regimes and reduced productivity.”

He continued: “The months ahead will see real pressure on cash flow as a consequence of the working capital demands of re-opening, while at the same time servicing and repaying new bank facilities, repaying tax arrears and the costs of any required redundancies. The need to focus on building financial resilience and maintaining liquidity cannot be overstated.”

In addition, Nimmo observed: “Managing a ramp-up in business activity in such an uncertain economic environment will be one of the biggest challenges many directors have ever faced. Understanding the cash and timing impact of business decisions may prove critical. Knowing the levers that are available and how to prioritise them will clearly be a key feature underpinning robust business planning.”

Nimmo concluded: “Given this outlook, the Q3 insolvency data could tell quite a different story. However, the most significant change to insolvency legislation in nearly two decades came into effect at the end of June. These provisions, including a new moratorium process providing breathing space from creditor pressure and temporary changes to certain director requirements, may assist some businesses in finding a solvent solution to their financial challenges, avoiding the need to enter administration or liquidation.”

*The most recent quarter with a lower volume of administrations than Q2 2020 was Q1 2016 when there were 266 administrations

**CVA data for Q2 2020 not yet available