COVID-19’s impact on the business world is unprecedented, presenting a challenge to all companies and businesses. Some companies have evolved quickly and some have or are falling behind.
Managing a business is a delicate balance anyway. The deadlines, the finances, cashflow, controlling costs, the need to generate income and improve margins, the human emotions, staff needs, skill shortages and with Covid-19 in the mix, it is simply hard to navigate. Many businesses will rise to the challenge and get through it. Some businesses are no longer viable. Many have closed the doors or considering it.
Struggling NZ Business in First Quarter 2022 – the Why
NZ business owners have struggled in the last while with lockdowns, inflation, increased oil prices, increased freight, global impacts on the NZ dollar, increased interest rates and now we are facing the rapid spread of Omicron, self isolation, more working from home, the impact of protests/mandates and more uncertainty offshore.
Many NZ businesses are suffering and the latest support payments in March 2022 will barely put a dent in the fixed overheads let alone any variable costs. Cashflow is tight for many and the outlook uncertain. Much of the downturn in business profitability being faced now is out of a business owners control. The statisticians for example say in Wellington foot traffic is down 47% on prior years. Auckland is down 38% of this time last year and 56% compared to two years ago. The prediction is 58% of hospitality businesses will close in the next month – some not indefinitely.
The impact of Covid on business has been sombre. The company strike offs are on the rise. Debt collection activity is on the rise. The media are saying the probability of recession is rising from the emergence of Covid and the negative impact of high interest rates and inflation.
It is not however all doom. There is some upside and some have had strong balance sheets with NZers spending in NZ. The dairy industry is doing well. As the borders open, tourism will change dramatically. Travel agents are seeing strong interest in bookings offshore for holidays and to visit family/friends. Some businesses will see an upturn in the near future. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Options for Struggling NZ businesses – the How
If your business is at the point of spiralling out of control, speak to your professional advisors who may be able to help your business. The pressures now on business are high and it is difficult. There are options for struggling businesses to consider whether that be to restructure or to bring the business to its end.
There are three rescue procedures in NZ, the compromise (Part 14), the Court approved scheme of arrangement (Part 15) – an option seldom used, and Voluntary Administration (Part 15A).
Liquidation is not a rescue procedure. It is usually a terminal procedure. Liquidators typically trade only for a short term for the purposes of the liquidation. The purpose of liquidation is to realise and distribute assets, not business survival. Some companies however advance liquidation for the purpose of restructuring and to purchase back part of the business from the liquidator (at market value). Some companies advance liquidation with a known purchaser lined up to purchase the business in a clean structure. The consideration attributed is often pre approved by the secured creditors in these cases.
Receivership can be a rescue procedure. It can result in the rescue of viable parts/businesses but the primary duty of a Receiver is to get the best return for the secured creditor (usually the bank). Business survival may be an outcome. Banks may agree to a VA proceeding to avoid the negative publicity from appointing a Receiver or to protect the value of the business goodwill achieved from the stay in an Administration.
A company compromise under Part 14 of the Companies Act 1993 is a useful method without (in theory) having to go to Court. There is however no automatic moratorium (like with a VA) so sometimes you go to Court anyway. A compromise requires the identification of classes of creditors and 75% approval by class. There is often no outside independent manager involved. The compromise is the likely least expensive option but it requires approval to essentially be assured in advance. It works well for smaller companies with lesser creditors involved.
A Voluntary Administration is advanced where the company is cash flow insolvent or likely to become insolvent. No Court application is required. The Board of directors can appoint an Administrator. If there is a winding up application (by a creditor) on foot, the Court will likely adjourn the winding up application if the Court is satisfied that it is in the interests of the creditors (Section 239ABV, Companies Act 1993). A business must be truly viable to be successfully rehabilitated. The appointment of an administrator for any other reason apart from rehabilitation is unlikely to gain the requisite support.
Liquidation versus Administration
A liquidator can only trade on for limited purpose of winding up. An administrator on the other hand has wide powers including the power to borrow. Some contracts will have termination clauses on liquidation but not on Administration. Both options have their advantages.
The best option is best discussed and well considered before advancing. Contact our team for advice on the options available if your business is in need of rescue, restructure or an orderly termination.