Zero interest rates and quantative easing has been the predictable reaction of central banks to the biggest threat since 2008.
It won’t be enough.
Just as the taxpayer had to rescue banks in the Financial Crisis, I think we’ll see government bail-out requests from major airlines and leisure providers in the coming weeks. Premier League sports clubs have deep enough pockets to survive but what about the lower level clubs?
Big companies are calling down lines of credit to swell their coffers, leading the banks to express concerns about liquidity. Further reductions in interest rates will put renewed pressure on bank margins.
The full impact of Covid19 will vary from sector to sector but I fear the biggest victims will be tens of thousands of small businesses who have been getting by but don’t have the luxury of cash reserves to fall back on. Those who work in B:B will find their customers suddenly taking longer to settle their invoices. Those in B:C will see footfall decline rapidly leading to empty cash registers.
These businesses with fewer than 50 staff don’t have much of a voice on the national stage, yet they employ almost 14 million people. That’s ten times the size of the NHS. Banks don’t throw money at this type of enterprise, indeed few of them will have even the most basic overdraft facilities. Some will have paid up front for stock that their customers will no longer buy. Others will have seen their supply lines from China dry up leaving them with no stock to sell.
In the credit crunch it was mainly the supply of money that dried up so the worst effected business were mortgage brokers and the like. This time the ‘social isolation’ mantra means that any firm reliant on groups of people coming together is exposed. I was in Gibraltar at the weekend doing some filming for Opulent.Homes – we recorded some interviews at the Europa Point sports centre on Friday just before it was closed to be converted into an emergency hospital with 200 beds. All bars and restaurants on The Rock were ordered to close by 8:00pm, effectively confining us to our hotel.
Yesterday we learned that the Property Investor Show, due to take place in the Excel Centre at the start of April, has been cancelled. The organisers want to hang onto our payment and use it for the October event – we’re thinking we should ask for a refund in case they’re not around in October…
We’ve cancelled two events in our own schedule, the Ai-Da robotic art evening in Mayfair on 25th March (watch for details of a video and webinar to replace this) and the Gold themed event on 29th April. Thousands of similar decisions are being made every day, each having an economic impact of anything from a few thousand to many millions. The short term cost will be measured in lost revenue. The medium term cost will be lost jobs and companies in liquidation.
As Warren Buffet famously said, it’s only when the tide goes out that you see who is swimming naked. Companies that are already overstretched could teeter over the edge while we wait for the virus to peak in the coming months. We could see some very big names hit the snooze button in a matter of weeks.
But spare a thought for the small business owners in your local High Street and business centre. These are the guys whose blood, sweat and toil are the engine at the heart of our economic growth. One of their biggest motivations is the lower tax rate offered to business owners through Entrepreneurs Relief when they eventually exit their company. Shame that, just as this curved ball gives them their greatest challenge in over a decade, the chancellor chose to slash that relief by 90%.
Maybe it’s time to move your business to a more welcoming environment…