the time of truth is approaching for companies

published on Monday, July 25, 2022 at 10:04 am

There can be no more postponement, now the companies must start paying the state-guaranteed loans (PGE) contracted during the health crisis, and if most have met their deadlines, the situation critical for some, forced to call their banks leniency.

“How can I return a PGE equal to 15% of my turnover if I make 20% less turnover than before the crisis? Impossible”. Patrick Bellity, foundry boss Sifa Technologies, sums up the dilemma he is currently facing.

The company, already weakened by the diesel crisis at the end of the 2010s, subscribed to a PGE in the middle of 2020. The businessman negotiated a delay until November 2022 in his first payment. And after that? “I don’t know if I can pay because I don’t know what my fall order level is,” he said.

According to the Banque de France, with almost 700,000 companies subscribing to a PGE of more than 148 billion euros in total, the default rate barely reaches 3%.

“In general, many companies have a relatively strong ability to adapt”, confirmed Virginie Normand, director of specialist markets Banque Populaire at BPCE, judging “epsilonesque” the level of unpaid at this stage of about 230,000 PGE given to the group.

“With some exceptions, the companies have started to pay as planned”, we confirmed in Bercy, where the crisis exit committee created in the middle of 2021 was piloted.

– “There is no more room for maneuver” –

But these reassuring statistics should not hide the real difficulties of some companies.

As for the tourist group Pierre et Vacances, forced into a backup plan and saw its PGE converted to capital of more than 200 million euros, bringing creditors to the group’s shareholding.

In the hotel and catering industry, where many companies take PGEs, one in four companies said at the end of June that they had not been able to honor their reimbursements, in a context where inflation is holding back spending. of consumers.

The situation is also tense in tourism where “many companies, hit hard by the pandemic, are asking for the maximum authorized PGE, ie (an amount equal to) 25% of the turnover. Pay it for four years it’s really complicated”, worried Yvon Peltanche , representative of the professional association Travel Companies.

He himself procures many PGEs for his network of travel agencies. He has no difficulty paying in the short term but “there will be no room for manoeuvre” if activity slows down, as he fears disruptions to air transport expected this summer.

In textiles, the treasurer of the National Federation of Clothing (FNH) Stéphane Rodier explained to AFP that he “is not very happy with the feedback from the accounting companies, if the current PGEs are paid not in 6 years but more than 4 years (due to the two-year postponement of the first deadlines), with sometimes little activity”.

– again –

Companies in difficulty can request the restructuring of their PGE through credit mediation, through a specific mechanism negotiated between the State and the banks, which in particular makes it possible to extend the payment period up to 10 years.

So far, only 300 cases have been managed through credit mediation, a “very low” number, a sign that the financial situation of companies remains positive, according to mediator Frédéric Visnovsky.

However, many companies are not aware of the existence of this 10-year shock mechanism, and many avoid it because it lowers their rating and complicates their financing.

“I started to worry at the beginning of 2022 because the cash flow was very slow. I said to myself: + I will go and negotiate with my bankers +. They told me + Very good, but knowing that it will happen. difficult for you to spend on yourself in the next 3 to 5 years +”, says Jean Valfort, head of the Panorama Group, owner of five restaurants and brands of virtual kitchens, which contracts a PGE of 1.5 million euros.

“If you are in default, the credit insurers withdraw, which means you have to pay your suppliers immediately, and that only worsens the situation”, also advances François Asselin, president of CPME, who believes that companies tend to “prefer collective procedures that freeze debts” (protection plan, receivership, liquidation, etc.)

“We know this difficulty, but the PGE is a bank loan, so the banks apply the rules”, set at the European level, we answered Bercy.

If there is no fire now, the deterioration of the economic outlook in the coming months is worrisome. “We are starting to see signs of erosion in the order books” of companies and, “if the activity collapses, it will be complicated”, warns François Asselin.

The Banque de France, on which credit intermediation depends, may also soon change its forecasts of the number of companies that will default on their PGE, Frédéric Visnovsky acknowledged.

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