Private Sector CashCrunch: Euro Style

Dreaming of expanding your global reach by exporting your products or services to the Eurozone? Perhaps it’s time to think again and put your ego in check and  focus on broadening your reach in domestic markets instead.  Although exporting to Saskatchewan, British Columbia or Ontario may not sound as sexy as doing business in Milan, Prauge or Amsterdam while chit-chatting around the 17th tee-box with your fellow business associates your prudence today may ensure your solvency tomorrow.

The debt written off by Europe’s companies due to late payment or non-payment of bills has swelled to €360bn despite the pick-up in economic activity in the region.

“The late payment consequences for businesses pose a real threat to Europe’s competitiveness and social wellbeing,” said Lars Wollung, president of Intrum Justitia, a credit management group. “Hardest hit by the problem. . . are small and medium enterprises.”  Justitia surveyed more than 10,000 business managers in 33 European countries, including Russia, for the annual European Payment Index (EPI).

Bad debts – bills or invoices which companies have written off due to late or non-payment – grew from 3 per cent of annual revenues in 2013, or €350bn, to 3.1 per cent this year, or €360bn.

Nearly three-quarters of the companies taking part in the research said that there had been no improvement in the late payments problem in the past three months despite the economic pick-up, and 46 per cent believed late and non-payment risks were actually increasing.

Forty per cent of the companies which took part in the EPI research said the severity of late payment problems was preventing them from hiring staff.   Unemployment in the Eurozone was nearly 12 per cent of the labour force in March according to Eurostat.

“Late payments can be a massive problem, mainly for cash flow reasons,” said one small business owner, based in Gloucester, England, who spoke to the FT on condition of anonymity.  “If our main contractors start holding back payments we normally have quite a lot of capital tied up in projects. The main way for me to deal with that is not to pay myself for a month or two.”

Sounds real appealing doesn’t it?