Growing number of UK firms face woes as lockdown drags

LONDON: The number of United Kingdom-listed companies at risk of insolvency has doubled as restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus continue to ravage the economy.

A record 35% of UK companies issued profit warnings last year, according to a report by the consulting firm EY. There was also a surge in the number of companies issuing in the number of companies issuing three or more profit warnings in a 12-month period, a warning sign for insolvency.

“Many UK Businesses have been treading on thin ice for months, with government support propping them up,” said Alan Hudson, restructuring leader for UK & Ireland at EY. “While there is speculation these measures could be extended until the summer, the countdown has started, and in weeks or months we’ll find out how many companies can keep their head above water.”

The UK is back under severe lockdown restrictions following a spike in coronavirus cases in December. The government has so far committed almost £300bil (US$411bil) in emergency support for the economy but now faces pressure to extend the furlough scheme after figures showing unemployment rising to the highest since 2016.

Sixty-two UK companies issued at least their third profit warning, double the total in 2019, according to the report. A total of 583 profit warnings were announced by UK-listed companies in 2020, the highest number in 21 years of EY research and 156% higher than the previous record set in 2001.

Retail has been one of the hardest-hit sectors, as visits to shops plunge with office workers staying home and the government advising consumers to avoid non-essential trips. Companies with a good online presence and the ability to adapt quickly have performed better, EY said for example by shifting away from formal wear to athleisure. – Bloomberg

The Star, 01 February 2021 (Monday)