Q4 2016 Economic Distress Report

7 minutes Mark Halstead

Figures from Begbies Traynor Red Flag Alert research show that more than 275,000 companies were showing signs of “significant” financial distress at the close of 2016, representing the thirteenth consecutive quarter that corporate stress has risen on a year on year basis.

According to the research, produced using Red Flag Alerts UK Business database to  monitor the financial health of UK companies, 276,518 businesses were experiencing ‘Significant’ financial distress at the end of 2016; an increase of 3% compared to the same period last year (Q4 2015: 268,898 companies). On an annualised basis, the last time that ‘Significant’ distress fell year on year was in Q3 2013. 

Of the companies experiencing financial distress during Q4 2016, 91% (254,857) were SMEs, indicating the scale of the problems faced by the UK’s smallest businesses. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter (23%)of the country’s struggling businesses were in London, where 64,764 companies finished the year in a state of ‘Significant’ financial distress; an increase of 5% on Q4 2015 

This rising distress comes at a time when the number of UK company incorporations is growing substantially, with more than 685,000 start-ups joining the economy during 2016 alone – the highest level since the start of the financial crisis in 2007. However, the research highlights that many of these start-ups are short lived ‘lifestyle’ businesses often forced upon people by changing circumstances, such as the loss of paid employment. For example, of the c.470,000 companies incorporated during 2011, almost 57% have since been dissolved, struck off or have entered formal insolvency procedures, and another 7.5% are not even trading. 

Julie Palmer, Partner at Begbies Traynor, says:

“With the World Bank revising down its growth forecasts for the UK, alongside reports that the UK’s trade deficit widened to a worse-than-expected £12.2bn in November, our data shows that levels of financial distress continue torise across the country, most of all within the UK’s important SME community, which is widely regarded as the lifeblood of the economy.

“The scale of SME distress at the end of 2016 just goes to highlight the fragility of UK micro businesses, many of which are underfunded, lack management experience or are flawed in concept. Although record numbers of new start-ups continue to join the economy each year, a large proportion don’t stay in business for long, with growing numbers of aspiring entrepreneurs returning to more established businesses as soon as the opportunity arises.”

Ric Traynor, Executive Chairman of Begbies Traynor, added:

“Despite finishing the year in a state of heightened financial stress,it is too early to saythat this is reflective of an underlying problem that is likely to continue or negatively impact 2017, as numerous macro indicators suggest that the New Year has got off to a reasonable start.

“EU exit negotiations and US trade policy could be major factors affecting business this yeareither for better or worse whilst rising inflation and fluctuating exchange rates are likely to have a negative impact. Either way 2017 could well be a defining year for UK business.”

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richard west Mark Halstead Partner

Mark's experience is big data analytics, financial services and building businesses provides Red Flag Alert with strategic direction.