Nothing stops a company in. Every penny counts FD REPORT

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1 FD REPORT Every penny counts Businesses need to improve working capital and leverage intellectual property to raise funding from within. Anthony Harrington reports In association with Nothing stops a company in its tracks faster than running short of working capital. The prolonged credit crunch has put a high priority on companies sorting out their refinancing well in advance. It has also forced many to think long and hard about both internal and external sources of cash to bolster their capital, particularly since there still seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that bank lending continues to be difficult for companies to obtain. According to Michael Derry, finance director at freight and logistics company Redhead International, any company that can lessen reliance on bank borrowing in today s economic environment is putting itself in a much better position, with a lot more options. There is no doubt from a finance director s perspective that it makes running your business so much easier if you can be confident that you have the appropriate amount of working capital in place, he says. w September

2 FD REPORT Funding But it goes far beyond simply making life more comfortable for the finance department. Derry points out that being able to show a strong cashflow stream and a solid working capital position on your balance sheet often enables the company to get much better prices from its suppliers. Credit referencing agencies look at your account and give you a much better credit rating if they can see a strong working capital position, he says. That makes suppliers much happier and they are going to extend better terms. Gearing up for business At the same time, businesses should not be overly afraid of gearing. All businesses need some gearing or you are probably being far too cautious, says Derry. If you have that much cash on hand that it can meet all your working capital requirements with no borrowing, then you are probably not making use of your cash efficiently. That said, a strong cash position is a great help if the company has the opportunity to acquire a competitor. When the management in the target company sees that you have a good cash position, you become much more attractive to the seller. They know you are not messing them around and trying to find out how their business works on the cheap, he says. Brian Shanahan, a senior director at working capital consultants REL, says one of the ways that large plcs have been raising additional working capital is by using their receivables as security. This is different from invoice discounting, since the debtors book is simply being used as support for the company s overdraft. However, it does often allow the bank to provide a much deeper overdraft than one secured on the company s assets or on director guarantees. One of the prime conditions for a bank accepting a company s debtors ledger as security for working capital, apart from the quality of that ledger, is that there are good debt collection processes in place in the company concerned. Working the portfolio Another route for additional working capital is supply chain financing by the banks. That was very much a developing area, Shanahan says, prior to the crash, but banks have withdrawn much of their support for it over the last year. There are all these products out there, but the acid test is the extent to which banks want to offer or support those products at the current time, he says. What we are finding is that the big plcs are being very focused in their internal management of cash and are managing their working capital portfolio a great deal better, whether it be getting better terms from suppliers or pushing for longer terms from creditors. The upshot of all this is that they need less debt than they did two years ago. Another source of additional working capital some companies are turning to is to sweat their intellectual property (IP) portfolio by looking to either sell or license IP to rivals in their sector. Alison Price, partner at law firm Maclay Murray & Spens, says that some are even using IP as additional security to support or increase the amount of working capital they can leverage from their bankers. IP used to be something that businesses routinely renewed, in the form of patents or trademark rights, every five years as the renewals fell due. Now we are seeing a definite trend for them to manage their IP much more closely, Price says. In fact, we have a number of established clients who are using their IP to raise significant amounts of additional cash from banks. The way this works in many instances is that the company assigns the IP to the bank, which then has a saleable asset if the company defaults. The bank then licenses the IP back as part of a loan contract. Demanding clients Martin Kilberry, finance director at Greenbank, which provides specialist products and engineering services to heavy industries such as coalfired power stations, had to solve the problem of meeting the requirements of demanding clients who required the company to post a substantial bond at the start of contracts. This is not uncommon where the supplier is engaged in large projects which will leave the client in difficulties if the supplier s business was to fail. Kilberry s problem was compounded by the fact that the company s bankers had reduced the company s modest 300,000 overdraft to a contact if needed basis, promising nothing. He solved the problem by switching to a bank that was prepared to provide a guaranteed overdraft and a 1m bond line facility. The deal was done in the early days of the credit crunch and shows that reworking banking arrangements can be achieved if the company is prepared to put in the legwork to find a willing bank. We now have an approved 750,000 overdraft in addition to the 1m bond line and it has been a huge help in enabling us to push for higher value orders from clients, he says. 36 September 2010

3 Invoice discounting FD REPORT Age of instant gratification Raising future revenue by selling on your invoices is an ever more popular route to growth but it also has its dangers, warns Anthony Harrington The practice of invoice discounting used to be targeted solely at small companies who were not of a sufficient scale to employ the staff required to cash manage the company s debtors ledger. Today, leveraging capital by selling on your invoices to a third party who can then give you that cash immediately is increasingly seen by companies of all sizes as a very powerful tool for enhancing the flow of working capital to the business. That said, it remains a mostly confidential practice and one that many FDs would not wish their clients to know they used, given the sense of outsourced debt collection around this type of funding. In his position as chair of the Asset Based Financing Association, Steve Box says that there has been around 64bn in confidential invoice financing conducted in the UK in 2010 among small- and mediumsized businesses. In his day job as managing director for HSBC s UK invoice finance operation, he reports that in the last year, the bank has released three tranches of 100m each to different UK plcs in this way. My overall advances to the market are up by 300m year-on-year. We are seeing a lot of demand right across the market and an increasing appetite from the top end plcs, he says. A good part of this increase is attributed to companies trading internationally and looking to their invoice discount provider to manage overseas collection for them. HSBC, for example, collects in 15 languages from 104 countries. According to Martin Rotheram, head of invoice financing at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks part of the National Australia Bank Group demand for invoice financing is being driven now by the fact that cash is available instantly and that arrangements carry a lot of funding flexibility. Providers release an agreed percentage, say around 85 percent, of the value of an invoice to the business as soon as it is raised. If sales grow, the working capital available to the company grows at the same pace without the need for further bank negotiations. Routes to funding such as the government s new finance scheme (see page 38) and begging the bank for a loan simply take more time and are more expensive. However, Peter Barry, finance director at Meiko UK, warns that while fast access to cash and the ability to move with the business s growth plans are strong upsides, there are some negatives to invoice discounting that companies need to bear in mind. Probably chief among these, he says, is the fact that if sales suddenly fall off a cliff as they did for many companies during the crash and would if the threat of a double-dip recession became reality companies could find their chief source of working capital dries up. Finance directors also need to be aware of the fact that banks expect companies to be on top of collecting their debts. Advances on debt outstanding after 120 days will be clawed back unless they want to insure against customers defaulting on their terms, which pushes up the cost of invoice discounting and may negate the reason for undertaking it. Invoice discounting the FD s view We asked FDs who have made use of invoice discounting to give us their thoughts Pros Invoice discounting is a way of financing an expanding business. As turnover goes up, so does immediate cashflow It can help businesses avoid overdrafts and personal guarantees, though discounters may sometimes ask for these Companies using invoice discounting can have credit insurance built in, or outsource the entire credit control function, though this can be costly Cons SME managers often do not understand the risks for example, why a downturn in turnover can create a cashflow crisis as funds dry up The percentage charge on each invoice is often less preferential than the cost of a bank loan, which could be a risk The risk of fraud exists as unscrupulous clients may invent invoices to get short-term cashflow, then go to the wall There is potential for clawback of available funds by a discounting house when invoices are overdue Your client and supplier relationships risk damage if the provider of invoice discounting uses particularly aggressive debt collection methods Invoice discounting can encourage over-trading and lead to a potential downgrade of your creditworthiness if your suppliers know you use invoice discounting it is still a maligned form of funding even if many companies find it useful September

4 FD REPORT Government-driven funding The emperor s old clothes FDs are sceptical as to whether the government s efforts to drive non-bank funding for business are sufficient or even deliverable, finds Nick Huber Are you a finance director at a growing business that wants to expand but is finding credit hard to come by? Do you want to create morejobsinanareathat depends on the public sector for employment? If so, the government may have finance for you. That is the message David Cameron s coalition is trying to convey with various measures it has set up. Amid fears of a double-dip recession, the government has launched its Regional Growth Fund (RGF), a 1bn scheme to encourage economic growth among midsized businesses that can demonstrate significant potential for sustainable economic growth and create private sector jobs. It has also launched a review of the wider barriers to business finance. With thousands of public sector job cuts expected over the next five years, the government hopes the private sector will be robust enough to pick up the slack. The first round of bids on the RGF is expected to close at the end of this year, with successful bids revealed in February Finance directors and accountants broadly welcome the initiative and the funding review, but there remains scepticism about whether these efforts will lead to significant benefits for business. Concerns include the perennial fear that government funds will be bogged down in red tape, making accessing the funds quickly very difficult, and scepticism that banks will ease restrictions on business loans, something the review aims to encourage. Robert Edwards, finance director at Next Generation Data, which runs one of Europe s biggest datacentres, works with the kind of businesses the government is keen to support and is considering a London flotation in early 2011 to fund further development on the 750,000 sq ft datasite, which serves clients including BT. Edwards says that, though the RGF is a good idea in principle, he is concerned that the scheme will be overly bureaucratic and slow to release cash to growing businesses. The problem is in how it ends up being administered, he tells Financial Director. From my experience in going for any kind of government grant, the process seems very onerous and slow to get to where you want to go. When you are working on growing a company you need to be making very quick tactical decisions. Marketplaces are very competitive, especially where we operate. Medium-sized businesses have faced similar problems over the past 18 months getting speedy access to loans from banks, he adds. If this government funding is going to provide quicker access to get funds, then great. But if it is going to mean months of red tape and form-filling then it is not going to work, he says. What about the business finance review, which is exploring ways to help small-to- ENTERPRISE FINANCE GUARANTEE SCHEME The Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) scheme, which guarantees bank loans to small businesses, has been set at 700m and will run until March The scheme one of a series of initiatives to unlock access to the credit markets for SMEs has proved controversial. Critics claim it got off to a faltering start due to confusion over the application process for loans. Following criticism by businesses that banks were taking too long to decide on loans, the government has set a processing target of 20 working days for all major lenders in the scheme. EFG supports lending to viable businesses in most sectors with an annual turnover of up to 25m seeking loans of 1,000 through to 1m. The government guarantees 75 percent of loans under the scheme. medium-sized firms raise more funds from private equity, or to float? Medium-sized companies looking to go public need an independent sponsor, or nomad, such as an accounting firm to help. Edwards believes it is a good idea for the government to approach mid-sized companies to explain the process of listing on the stockmarket. A bit of education on the A-to-Z of taking your company public might be a good thing, Edwards says. The process isn t that complicated until some acronyms are thrown in. But consultants can make it sound easier than it is because they want to charge a lot of money for their time and effort. New wrapper Other FDs are also sceptical. Bob Eastoe, finance director of Hypnos, the bed manufacturer, is unimpressed by the RGF, thinking the fund is old money in a new wrapper. He also thinks the bidding process, which allows different projects looking for government investment to be included in a package, risks being difficult to administer and may deter private investors. The idea of packaged projects being submitted begs the question of complexity of ownership and responsibility, says Eastoe. The more complex and varied the package, the less likely private capital will be involved in the individual components. If an award is to be made, how will the funds be allocated to each element and what happens if there are overspends on different elements? He is also sceptical about the value of forthcoming Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), aiming to partner local authorities with groups representing business, such as the Institute of Directors, due to replace England s nine regional development agencies (RDAs) by Matthew Fell, director of company affairs at the Confederation of British Industry, supports the RGF but wants more detail on how it will work, the criteria for successful bids, and details on the bidding process. 38 September 2010

5 Currently, LEPs leave FDs cold on how it will lead them to funding. If ever there was an indication this is a non-starter of a proposal, it is the expectation that a new group of quangos will rush to form into cohesive groups, Easote adds. What is the form of these LEPs? What happens to good ideas that don t happen to come from LEPs? Manos Schizas, SME policy adviser at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, also has doubts about whether the RGF will be of significant help to business. The principle of rebalancing regions that are too dependent on the public sector is sound, but as a rule, regional funds outside the south of England have come under fire for being too small and too restricted in their investments to make any kind of difference, Schizas tells Financial Director. Politically speaking, it will be impossible for the regional fund to be run centrally, so we are very likely to end up with regional manifestations of the fund which will be just as small and restricted as their predecessors within the RDAs. For their part, RDAs say that every 1 spent achieves a return of at least 4.50 for regional economies, increasing to 6.40 when the long-term benefits are considered. What about the government s review of business financing? Here, prospects for business look better. Schizas says the review is addressing the right issues and may include proposals on mezzanine finance lending debt that is subordinate to bank debt, but preferential to equity a tool private equity groups and investment banks have turned to during the credit crunch. Schizas thinks the government may start to act on Europe-wide proposals affecting the funding availability for UK companies. Another exciting possibility is that we ll see the government take a position on the French proposals for a European Union Small Business Listing Act, which is a set of proposals intended to improve the regulatory environment for small equity issuers in the Union, he says. The Lib Dems have in the past consulted on a system of regional stock exchanges and may have further ideas on this. Only a small number of SMEs raise funds through IPOs, but this is an interesting possibility. REGIONAL GROWTH FUND With banks accused of failing to lend to businesses, the government has said it thinks the current financing system needs to change to boost economic growth. The Rowlands Review of 2009 identified a gap in the supply of finance of between 2m and 10m for UK SMEs looking to grow. In March this year, the Labour government announced a growth capital fund, backed by banks, to invest in SMEs looking for capital of between 2m and 10m. The eventual goal for the size of the fund was given at 500m. One aim of the coalition government s consultation with business, which closes in late September 2010, is to make it easier for companies particularly the UK s 4.8 million SMEs to access a wider range of financing, including private equity investors and the bond markets, removing the need to rely on bank lending. Announced in July, the 1bn RGF will fund projects that can show significant potential for sustainable growth and can create new private sector jobs. It is due to start in 2011 and last for two years. The government is consulting businesses on the RGF until 6 September. It will reveal more details about it and on Local Enterprise Partnerships in a whitepaper later this year. Priority will be given to applications from companies in areas that rely heavily on the public sector for employment. Businesses can partner with public sector bodies for bids, which should be for 1m or more, and former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine will chair an independent approval panel for the fund. Funding will depend on the needs of local areas. Examples of schemes likely to qualify for funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills include programmes that develop skills and help bring people back into work; improve transport and housing; or encourage growth in the low-carbon and environmental sectors. The government s consultation seeks to make it easier for small- and mediumsized companies to get access to wider range of finance. September

6 FD REPORT Private equity DOWNLOAD THIS FD REPORT Pounds and sense Private equity can provide intellectual as well as growth capital to fund recovery, finds Richard Crump As the economy slowly returns to health, UK businesses of all sizes are once again beginning to focus their attention on growth. But with banks still cagey about lending to anyone but the most creditworthy companies, and public markets remaining too expensive to access for smaller businesses, there is a scarcity of traditional capital available to give flight to any growth ambitions so much so that Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, recently described the situation as heartbreaking in an address to Parliament. Lending to UK business fell by almost 30bn over the past 12 months, according to UBS, while Bank of England figures show that loans to business dropped by 2.3bn in May, the third straight month in which lending fell. The public markets have provided scant relief, as there were virtually no companies coming to market in the UK over the past 18 months, except for large and heavily-geared companies undertaking rights issues. And even those struggled to get off the ground. Ocado, the grocery delivery business which is part of Waitrose, pressed ahead with its planned flotation in late July, despite concerns of getting the IPO away in choppy financial markets. But even that traded at a heavy discount as the rights issue showed Ocado s market value to be around 853m, compared with its own estimate of 1.2bn. Not alone Others have also struggled. Merlin Entertainments, which runs Madame Tussaud s and Legoland, pulled its planned 2bn flotation, while airline ticketing outfit Travelport abandoned its planned listing in February. The situation has been even more difficult for SMEs. To all intents and purposes the public market has been closed to small businesses. The public market is bearish rather than bullish. A lot of smaller public companies can t raise money to grow their business, says Ross Marshall, chief executive of Dunedin, a private equity outfit specialising in UK mid-market buyouts of between 20m and 75m. No one expects that situation to improve any time soon. Nigel Reynolds, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, does not expect the market to open very much before next year and, without funding, SMEs cannot afford the cost of listing when there is scant promise of any return from the markets. Even though private equity houses have had their own horror story of late, this has created an opportunity for some of them to fill the funding gap where creditworthy SMEs with a strong proposition are concerned. If we were to go to the Alternative Investment Market, the price of the transaction and governance costs is very high. It is only worthwhile if you are looking at a significant capital injection, says Richard Lee, CEO of Creativity Software, a global supplier of locationbased services to mobile network operators. The company received funding in April this year from MMC Ventures, a venture capital outfit that invests growth capital in UK companies. Funding alternative Other SMEs also view private equity as the preferred funding alternative. We are a 15.7m turnover business and public market funding is not really on our radar, says Paul Keen, finance director of etc.venues, a provider of city centre training and conferences that was bought out by its management in a 21m deal in But there are pitfalls to private equity growth capital. Most funding comes with strings attached. Investors typically look for a return of around 30 percent every year until exit but there are more benefits for SMEs than just the cash injection. Most private equity investors are keenly involved in delivering a businesses growth in a short space of time and can table considerable experience in doing so. That can be as powerful as it can be a burden. You do hear horror stories of companies struggling with private equity and venture capital investors, says Creativity Software s Lee. It is expensive money, but we got a fair deal with MMC. For SMEs, etc.venues FD Paul Keen believes that the downside tends to be worse for large companies. A lot of that tends to happen in mega deals. Generally they are supporters of business, he tells Financial Director. Where the model works well is the triangle it creates between private equity, the business and banks: both parties have got the same interest in growing the business and banks like the fact there is oversight that is not just the management. The money comes with huge benefits. 40 September 2010

7 Bank of the Year winner, David Hanney Finance Director GO Outdoors, David Hunt Relationship Director Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets Compass, check. Hiking boots, check. Good banking relationship, check. When GO Outdoors, the leading leisure company, needed funding to expand, we were there. Our close working relationship meant funding could be quickly agreed, enabling them to open 17 new stores. The right equipment is essential in the great outdoors. The right relationships are essential in business. To find out how our Relationship Directors can help you, call Nick Boardman on or visit lloydstsbcorporatemarkets.com Corporate Markets We accept calls made through RNID Typetalk. Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets is a trading name of Lloyds TSB Bank plc and Lloyds TSB Scotland plc. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority under registration numbers and respectively. Bank of the Year FDs Excellence Awards supported by the CBI. PR

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