Connect with us


These Struggling Retailers May Suffer Their Final Blow From The Coronavirus Lockdown



The coronavirus could mean the end for a number for vulnerable retailers.

With millions of Americans forced to stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, foot traffic to malls and downtown shopping areas is quickly evaporating, a potential deadly blow for those chains teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

A new monthly report from S&P Global Market Intelligence, which tracks the publicly-traded retailers that are the most likely to default in the next year, offers a glimpse at those most at risk during the coronavirus outbreak. Several large mall-based brands sit atop the list, including: Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands, Francesca’s, Ann Taylor’s parent company Ascena Retail Group, J.Jill, JCPenney and The Children’s Place.

While many of these retailers have been on bankruptcy watch for months—typically due to some combination of falling sales, low cash reserves and too much debt—the coronavirus could fast-track their demise.

In recent days, Victoria’s Secret and Ann Taylor have joined a parade of retailers to announce voluntary two-week store closures to help slow the spread of the virus, wiping out any shot at in-store sales. Their best hope is to recoup sales on the web. While more shoppers may flock online while they’re stuck at home, there is no mistaking their reliance on stores. According to the National Retail Federation, 89% of total retail sales still take place at brick-and-mortar stores.

At the same time, retailers are stuck with rent and other fixed costs of running a sprawling fleet of stores. Most retailers have said they will continue to pay employees while stores are closed. However, those who have a meager amount of cash on their balance sheet to fund operations could quickly find they are unable to pay their bills. Large amounts of debt put further strain on balance sheets.


There have already been eight retail bankruptcies this year. Pier 1 has put itself up for sale and will permanently close 450 of its stores. Art Van Furniture, which was purchased by a private equity firm in 2017, will close all of its stores.

“We haven’t seen any bankruptcies tied to coronavirus yet because it’s fairly new,” says S&P data analyst Chris Hudgins. “However, we might see more as time goes on. The ones that have more cash on their books and less leverage are going to be the ones that do better in times like this.”

Lauren Debter, Forbes Staff, Retail


Finances And Coronavirus: Threats And Opportunities In Lockdown Era




Coronavirus has affected everyone in the UK, but not everyone has been affected in the same way.

This is starkly apparent when it comes to money. Eight million people are on furlough, receiving 80% of their normal pay from the government’s job retention scheme, while thousands more have been made redundant.

Many self-employed individuals and business owners are likewise under extreme financial pressure because of the lockdown.

But for others, the coronavirus has been a very different experience. Millions have been able to work from home on full pay but with significantly reduced outgoings – no commuting, no expensive coffees or sandwich shop lunches, no dry cleaning bills.

With shopping and entertainment options severely curtailed, general spending has dropping dramatically. According to pollsters YouGov, 1 in 6 people have been able to add to their savings, while 1 in 10 have managed to pay of their debts.

44% of respondents feel less secure about their financial situation

Perhaps not surprisingly, white collar professionals have been better able to improve their finances. Those in manual occupations are more likely to have continued going into work rather than working from home and enjoying the associated cost savings.

Worryingly, YouGov found that 36% of Britons have dipped into their savings to meet their bills during the pandemic, with 44% feeling less financially secure as a result of the crisis.

Additionally, 16% have reported that their debts have gone up, while over a third (35%) have reported that their incomes have decreased.

Government intervention

The financial situation for many people would undoubtedly have been worse had it not been for swift intervention by the government on an unprecedented scale.

The job retention scheme, originally due to run until the end of July, has been extended until the end of October – although from August employers will be expected to contribute towards the cost.

Businesses are also able to access a range of loans underwritten in full or in part by the government, including the Bounce Back Loans Scheme and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, where the maximum loan size was increased from £50 million to £200 million earlier this week.

Additional funding has also been made available to large corporations by the Bank of England.

Other government measures include the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. However, at present, this only provides payments to cover the months of March, April and May, and there has been no suggestion that it will be extended in the same way as the job retention scheme.

Mortgage payments holiday

The government is planning to extend its mortgage payments holiday initiative, whereby banks and building societies are instructed to allow borrowers to miss repayments on the understanding they will make up the accrued capital and interest debt over the rest of their loan.

The scheme was originally due to run until 20 June 2020, but under propoals expected to be rubber-stamped this week, those who have already taken payment holidays will be able to apply for an extension of up to three months, while those who have not yet applied will be able to do so until 31 October 2020.

UK Finance, which represents lenders, says 1.82 million mortgages were subject to a payments holiday as of 20 May – roughly 1 in 6 of all mortgages.

The three-month payment holiday for credit cards and other credit-based products is under active review – we may hear more on that from the Financial Conduct Authority in the coming days.

Impact on motoring

One area of the economy that has seen a huge contraction is motoring, from car sales to fuel consumption.

The number of new car registrations collapsed in April, the first full month of the lockdown, falling 97.3% year on year, from 161,064 in 2019 to 4,321 in 2020.

The restrictions imposed by the lockdown inevitably led to most people driving less or not at all, which had a knock-on effect on sales of petrol. The reduction in supermarket pump prices to below £1 a litre earlier in May was a clear indicator that supply was well ahead of demand.

Research from Lloyds Bank suggests fuel spending in April was down 58%, while day-to-day commuting expenditure was 86% lower.

Online car retailer CarWow reckons more than two fifths of Britons have spent less than £10 on petrol during the last month, with a third purchasing no petrol at all.

Vix Leyton at CarWow, said: “After more than two months in lockdown, the idea of a regular petrol station top-up no doubt seems like a distant memory to the millions of British motorists who’ve not needed fuel – or perhaps even driven – for weeks.”

With some of the lockdown restrictions beginning to easy, Leyton suggests now might be a time to fill up: “For those wanting to take advantage of low pump prices, now is arguably the time to do so – providing you can do so safely – before lockdown measures are eased even further and long queues begin forming.”

Bike use – and thefts – on the up

Another effect of the lockdown has been an rise in the number of people cycling for their permitted daily exercise, but a consequence of this has been an increase in the number of bicycles being stolen.

David Fowkes of insurer Admiral said: “Several cycle retailers have reported that they’ve sold out of many models. We’ve seen a 46% increase in the number of bicycle theft claims over the last seven weeks compared with the same period in 2019. That’s incredible when you consider that overall theft claims have fallen during the lockdown as people have stayed at home, deterring burglars.”

Admiral won plaudits in April when it became the first UK insurer to give a cash rebate (£25) to all its car insurance policyholders. Only LV has made a similar pro-active gesture, leading the Financial Conduct Authority to impose a package of measures that require insurance companies to provide support to customers in financial distress as a result of the pandemic.

Energy bills

With more people working from home and staying at home in line with government stipulations, there has been an increase in domestic energy consumption, with comparison site Compare the Market suggesting annual bills could rise by £400.

However, global demand for energy has reduced sharply, with factories and offices mothballed and travel services limited.

Stephen Murray, energy spokesperson at MoneySuperMarket, says cheaper domestic energy deals are available as a result: “A cocktail of factors have come together to make this is a great time to switch supplier. 

“There’s been a major drop in the wholesale element of domestic energy prices of nearly 40%- something partly explained by oversupply in the market due to declining business energy usage as a result of the coronavirus crisis.”

As economies gradually emerge from lockdown and energy demand increases, there is likely to be an impact on prices in the opposite direction.

Tips to keep your finances in shape

Here’s a to-do list for anyone wanting to save money and get their finances in the best possible shape:

  • Compare energy prices: use a comparison site to see if you can save money by switching. If you’ve never switched or haven’t switched for two or three years, there are likely to be cheap fixed rate deals available
  • Talk to your insurer about saving money: the regulator has told car and home insurance companies to help customer whose finances have been harmed by coronavirus, but it’s up to you to contact them to discuss the options, such as reducing the estimated annual mileage on your car insurance and getting a premium refund
  • Don’t automatically renew insurance: whenever a car or home insurance policy comes up for renewal, run a quote on a comparison site to see if there’s a better deal out there
  • Get the best broadband deal: check you’re on the best deal, especially if you’re working from home or using streaming services more than usual. You need the best combination of speed, capacity, reliability and price. See if your existing service provider can improve its offer
  • Talk to your lender: if you have debt, such as a mortgage, personal loan, credit card balance or car finance, and you are struggling to meet your repayments, talk to your lender to see what options are open to you. Don’t be tempted simply to stop making payments as this will have a long-term effect on your financial record.

If you are in financial distress as a result of the pandemic, or it has made your situation worse, contact a debt charity such as National Debtline or Stepchange for advice and support.

Kevin Pratt, Forbes Staff, Advisor UK

Contributor Group, Personal Finance

Continue Reading


Op-Ed: How To Be A Major Player In Global Food Markets



Last year, Bill Gates named his 10 breakthrough technologies for the year. Among the technological developments he outlined were robot dexterity, new-wave nuclear power, customized cancer vaccines and the cow-free burger. It was the first time that the list, usually compiled by MIT Technology Review, was created by a guest editor. It is no wonder that Gates rightly predicted that home computers and the internet would infiltrate much of our lives. Yet, when I went through this list, it was not necessarily universal. Many of these breakthrough technologies made sense through Western lenses. We have to ask, which of these breakthrough technologies will have the most significant impact on the African continent?

Perhaps the most pressing issue for Africa now is agriculture. Climate change has had a devastating impact on the agriculture sector, which is particularly concerning when you consider that most African economies still heavily depend on it. A study by McKinsey & Company found that more than 60% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture. Yet, increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns and extreme weather events not only disrupt entire industries but reduce food availability and impacts food quality. This, of course, is coupled with the fastest-rising population, which places more strain on resources.

We have already observed in the last few years how devastating a drought can be. South Africa has become a significant food importer, while Kenya and Zimbabwe are on the verge of starvation. This has seen the regional and national economic growth take a severe knock. Yet, as the United Nations put it, “the continent has enormous potential, not only to feed itself and eliminate hunger and food insecurity but also be a major player in global food markets.” So how do we go about this? I would argue that tapping into the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) does not just serve as a way of revitalizing the agricultural sector but also realizing its potential. As the American financier Bernard Baruch once put it: “Agriculture is the greatest and fundamentally the most important of our industries. The cities are but the branches of the tree of national life, the roots of which go deep into the land. We all flourish or decline with the farmer.”

I have just bought a farm and have been looking at ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) can make farming more efficient. Farmers can tap into AI to combat disease and pests, which have been made worse by climate change and pesticide use. Drones and other robots equipped with computer vision can collect data points from the farms’ existing crops. If you were to ask me to spell out some breakthrough technologies, many of them would be inextricably linked with the agricultural sector.

For instance, it is estimated that humans would need to plant over 1.2 trillion trees to combat climate change. Here, we could use AI to automate this process.

Airlitix is a South African AI software that is currently being used in drones to automate greenhouse management processes. We could take this a step further. Airlitix can collect temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide data as well as analyse soil and crop health.

Elsewhere, similar technology has been adopted. The Third Eye project in Kenya uses near-infrared cameras mounted on drones to survey and diagnose the plants for pests and diseases, water stress and nutrient deficiencies. This requires a combination of historical data and the use of AI. Last year, IBM developed an AI-powered app to test the quality of their soil and water on location, in real-time. The AgroPad is a technology that can rapidly perform chemical analysis of water and soil samples. In California, Ceres Imaging has mapped fields using images of farms, which are analysed using AI to ascertain whether crops are getting enough water. This technology helps farmers decide when to plant, water, spray and harvest their crops.

This conversation crops up as we scrutinize what it means to have a green economy. The 4IR does not merely provide tools for efficiency, but it presents a unique opportunity to interrogate how we can transform the industry as our natural environment deteriorates.

To a large extent, we underestimate the importance of the agricultural sector. Yet, without it, we would not have food security, we would see our economies crumble and there would be untold job losses.

-Tshilidzi Marwala

Continue Reading


5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis



It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.


The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.


Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.


It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

Continue Reading