Month: August 2020

alternative lenders
ArticlesWealth Management

Why Alternative Lenders Mustn’t Be Frozen Out During the Covid-19 Crisis

Lending

Why Alternative Lenders Mustn’t Be Frozen Out During the Covid-19 Crisis

By Douglas Grant, Director of Conister Finance & Leasing Limited

There are around 5.9 million small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs, or any business with fewer than 250 employees) in the UK according to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Seen to be the backbone of any healthy economy, they drive growth, create a group of skilled and semi-skilled workers, generate competition and encourage innovation across a range of industries, as well as supporting future industrial and business expansion in the country. They keep the business sector energised, generating a healthy flow of new skills and ideas.

Since 2008, alternative lenders have risen in prominence, working alongside larger more traditional clearing banks, offering a funnel of vital liquidity through tailored and flexible lending solutions to SMEs. Today there are significant amounts of private capital (often referred to as dry powder) waiting to be invested in resilient SMEs and the market share of clearing banks has fallen significantly in a far more diversified lending sector. In the last 12 years, banks have also become much better capitalised than during the Global Financial Crisis. Previously businesses could service debt from remaining cash flows with little or no capital for investment which resulted in a zombie status for many UK SME borrowers. Today, the environment is very different although this trend has not disappeared. In fact, as a result of Covid-19, it is estimated the trend could develop further given the potential that businesses may build up £100 billion of debt by next March.

The UK Government has been quick to back sectors post Covid-19 that are resilient to recessions and market volatility, providing financial security and protection through initiatives such as the bounce-back loans scheme. This is where alternative lenders that understand the very basic needs of specialist SMEs, often in their lending infancy and operating in sectors such as infrastructure, technology and renewables, can provide the additional support and natural lending progression alongside the larger clearing banks. Alternative lenders understand the characteristics of specialist SMEs and with the flexibility they offer, empower their staff to make judgement calls on capital requirements.

The economy though is facing a double dip recession that could last well into late 2021 and it will need these resilient sectors to be protected with their existence guaranteed. Many clearing banks are working tirelessly to process emergency loan applications but with pressures piling up – for example from within their mortgage lending divisions – a lot of SMEs will become unsustainable, with some estimates predicting 780,0001 insolvent SMEs. It was concerning therefore to see that alternative lenders are potentially unlikely to receive much financing from the Bank of England to deliver emergency government loans. It is crucial that clearing banks pass on finance from the Bank of England to alternative lenders and find a way to make it work on commercial terms. SMEs must have a tripartite level of support from Government, alternative and traditional lenders working together in these difficult times.

As traditional banks deal with the impact of Covid-19 around their balance sheets, it is likely that they will have to pause financing discussions around succession and growth financing as well as recapitalisations, in order to redirect resources to addressing an enormous influx of CBILS applications from capital-starved SMEs. Those resilient SMEs who have weathered the pandemic best in their sector will be able to benefit from the potential acquisition opportunities to increase their market share and will need capital to carry this out. Alternative lenders have the know-how and flexibility to help process this type of financing quickly and effectively. Without legacy loan books and unencumbered by CBILS applications coupled with high levels of dry powder, alternative lenders working together with clearing banks can help to execute rapid credit decisions on flexible terms.

The UK business sector as a whole needs both more financial support for the alternative lending sector which is working together with traditional banks but also more sustainable initiatives to support SMEs in more resilient sectors from the Bank of England as we come to terms with an increasingly capital hungry economy – an issue that necessitates urgent attention.

gold
ArticlesMarkets

Why Gold Prices Have Been Hitting Record Highs

gold

Why Gold Prices Have Been Hitting Record Highs

Gold prices continue to rally this month as the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 continues. The precious metal closed at a little above $2,000 (£1523.05) on August 5th — a record high in the history of gold. Its earlier record peak was in 2011, a few years into the global financial crisis, when investors pushed the price of gold past the $1,900 (£1446.90) threshold.

Analysts have noted that the price of gold in recent months has been on a steady upward trend. However, during the initial stages of the pandemic, market prices rose and fell erratically. A report on gold prices by FXCM in March of this year stated that the bullion, which includes gold, performed poorly due to mass capitulation. Investors liquidated their assets out of panic as outbreaks occurred left and right. This caused the price of gold to fluctuate.

Almost two quarters into the pandemic, however, and the price of the metal continues to increase. That said, SYZ Private Banking’s Luc Filip recently pointed out that investors need to understand each asset’s characteristics in order to position themselves for recovery. And so with that in mind, here are the main explanations behind the escalation of gold prices:

 

Gold is a safe haven

Compared to other financial markets and instruments, gold is considered a safe haven in times of economic turmoil. This is due to the fundamental value of the metal, independent of other factors like economic stability. Gold is still gold — and valuable — on its own.

When a financial crisis happens, the value of assets such as stock, real estate, and currency drops. Investors tend to flock to gold given that it has historically retained most of its value during economic instability. The recession that today’s pandemic has caused is no different. And as cases continue to rise globally with no available cure or vaccine, the prevailing investment speculation is that gold will be the least risky investment option for the foreseeable future.

 

The dollar is weakening

The price of gold generally has an inverse relationship with the value of the dollar. As of this writing, NBC News reports that there are over 4.8 million COVID-19 cases in the US, and this number continues to rise across the country.

The inefficient containment of the coronavirus is one of the reasons the US has entered a recession. Though it initially rose, the dollar has dipped in value over the last few months. A weaker dollar means more gold can be purchased by investors pushing the demand — and its price — higher.

 

Investor interest is rising

Given those reasons, investor sentiment towards the metal has been positive. It is also receiving wide media coverage due to the record highs the price of gold has been hitting and surpassing. More analyses and reports on gold naturally increase interest among investors.

As the pandemic continues, Goldman Sachs predicts that gold prices will rally and pass the $2,300 (£1751.51) mark per troy ounce. This is due to the ongoing economic and political instability in the US, as well as the global public health crisis that hit the country particularly hard. Though the situation is alarming, these are considered favourable conditions for gold and thus, might make it a worthwhile investment.

online banking
ArticlesBanking

How Can the Banking Industry Emerge Stronger from The Covid-19 Pandemic?

online banking

How Can the Banking Industry Emerge Stronger from The Covid-19 Pandemic?

Around the world, many countries now face a new period of uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While regional lockdowns had temporarily started to ease, the prospect of a second wave has caused some countries to reintroduce restrictions – a situation which may be ongoing and become a ‘new normal’ as part of the global effort to combat the virus.

Amid these challenges, society has been forced to digitalise many of its core functions at an unexpectedly fast pace, sparking unprecedented levels of innovation in a short space of time. This has led to an emergence of new digital services and triggered the transformation of key sectors including finance, education and healthcare. With growing levels of unpredictability around how the pandemic will unfold, there is a societal expectation that access to comprehensive digital services will continue and improve.

This expectation is particularly prominent in the banking industry, which rolled out an expanded range of digital services during the early stages of the pandemic to enable customers to manage their finances safely from home. New services include virtual appointments, expanded features for mobile banking and streamlined authentication processes for customer service. As banks look ahead to the future, Mobey Forum is drawing upon its Expert Groups to identify the key considerations for the industry.

 

A new era for online banking

The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a huge surge in demand for online banking; the United States is reported to have seen a 200% increase in new mobile banking registrations in April 2020, which is reflective of a broader global trend. Similarly, in the retail industry, there was a significant increase in the number of consumers using online shopping for the first time, and future ecommerce purchases from new or low frequency users are expected to increase by 160%.

While the increase in online banking services was driven by the urgent requirement for people to manage their finances without leaving home, many customers have since recognised the convenience of online access, and are calling for more comprehensive digital banking services. The pandemic also prompted many within the older generation to access digital services for the first time.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged banks to invest more time in developing tools which allow customers to manage their finances remotely. By ‘remotely’ we mean allowing customers to access their banking information independently without any third-party support,” says Mario Brkić, co-chair of the Open Banking Expert Group at Mobey Forum. The emerging social and behavioural changes caused by the pandemic require banks to undertake a careful evaluation of which financial matters can be managed in-person, and what can be dealt with online.

 

The digital identity opportunity

As well as rolling out new digital services, banks now have an opportunity to respond to the growing demand for digital identity. The pandemic has triggered a sharp increase in customers needing to verify their identity online: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are relying on digital identity schemes than ever before,” says Jukka Yliuntinen, co-chair of the Digital ID Expert Group at Mobey Forum. “As an example, usage has increased in the UK where digital identity is required to access government benefits, and it is a similar situation across many of the Nordic countries.”

Mobey Forum has explored this opportunity further in a new report, entitled The Mobey Long Take – Post Covid-19 Digital Identity, which outlines why banks are in a unique position to seize the opportunity presented by digital identity, and indeed are best placed to lead the discussions and implementation going forward. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, banks have played an important role as a distribution mechanism for many of the government intervention and support strategies. They must now seize the opportunity to take this a step further and lead the development of a fairer, more trusted approach to digital identity.

 

A rise in customer data

With more customers utilising digital services, banks also have an opportunity to use the data to drive additional value for customers. However, this approach is not without challenges: “Data privacy and machine learning fairness are two of the most complex data-related challenges for banks,” says Amir Tabaković, co-chair of the Data Privacy in the Age of AI Expert Group at Mobey Forum. “On the one hand, banks need to innovate using technology and they must become data-driven to do that. On the other hand, trust is the biggest asset for banks,” he adds.

Banks have a long history of credibility and trust and their ability to demonstrate this through the secure management of customer data will be critical to creating confidence in new services. In rolling out new services, banks also have an important responsibility to ensure they remain accessible to all demographics. By sourcing feedback from the newest users of digital services – specifically those who are using them for first time – banks can test if their design is intuitive to customers.

 

Planning ahead

Covid-19 has irrevocably changed consumer habits and expectations. As we navigate the path forward, banks have a window of opportunity, to reflect on the learnings to date and use them to build a digital-first banking ecosystem which will serve customers for the years ahead. It is through this forward planning that the banking industry can help the global economy emerge stronger than before.

whisky
ArticlesMarketsTransactional and Investment Banking

Why Whisky is the Safest Investment to Make Right Now

whisky

Why Whisky is the Safest Investment to Make Right Now

Whisky Investment company Braeburn confirm why investing in whisky during economic uncertainty is a lucrative and sustainable asset for any portfolio.

Throughout history, whisky has proven a reliable investment even in time’s of economic decline. Whisky proved a popular choice during the Great Depression, and recent market behaviour would suggest that ‘liquid gold’ will continue to have significant financial gain despite the current climate.

“Societal turbulence is often a time when investors take stock of their portfolio and examine new ways in which they can protect and profit from their savings, this global pandemic is no different.” states Braeburn’s Sales Director, Samuel Gordon.

Whisky investment has been rising in popularity over the last decade, by 582%, according to The Knight Frank 2020 Wealth Report. This report also shows sales of scotch to India, China and Singapore rising by 44% in the first half of 2018 alone. However, in actuality, it’s whisky casks specifically, that offer the security and consistency that evade traditional asset classes.

With the surge in demand for single malts, distilleries are struggling to keep up. The process for crafting quality spirits that enthusiasts desire, happens over lengthy periods of time. Distilleries ultimately can only make and store so much resulting in a continually increasing value. As a result, independent bottlers, blenders and other investors are known to pay highly and quickly in current secondary markets.

While economic uncertainty can bring new levels of volatility to traditional financial markets like stocks, shares and housing. Samuel explains that whisky doesn’t follow these market trends and isn’t impacted by the reactive and turbulent swings of traditional investments.

“Instead of decreasing during periods of economic downturn, historically, whisky casks have increased in value. When whisky remains in its cask, its continuing is maturation process. Over years, the whisky interacts with the cask, taking on beautiful and unique flavours from the wood. Although in time, there is a golden moment to bottle whisky, in general, the longer it’s left the more distinguished and deep the flavour becomes along with the ability to demand a higher resale value.”

Unlike other industries that are impacted by developing technology and evolving consumer behaviour, the whisky industry is prized on its heritage and historical methods. Whisky has maintained consistency through every type of economy and returns are still on the rise.

Over the last five years, casks have earned an average of 12.4% per annum. The average cask doubles in value every 5 years with casks from popular distilleries earning even higher returns. This again, is due to the maturation process which allows whisky to ride through difficult times whilst still increasing in value. Instead of the cask values rising and falling violently with political and economic changes like the traditional stock market, whisky is left to mature in the cask, only to appreciate in value.

Whisky casks offer diversification into tangible assets allowing investors to enhance their portfolio across different asset classes. Traditional ‘paper’ investments puts future success solely in an endeavour outside the investors control. With whisky casks, no matter what happens in the economy, the whisky can always be bottled and sold, even if the market is down or a distillery closes. With an asset grounded in intrinsic value, an investor can safeguard wealth.

An important factor in whisky cask investment is that is offers further security against forgery or fakes. Unlike art, antiques and even bottled whisky, whisky casks mitigate this risk because the Scottish Government requires that they are stored under strict oversight.

Casks are stored in government bonded warehouses that are required to keep meticulous records. Because of this careful and impartial monitoring, investors can be confident in the provenance and value of their casks.

Samuel concludes,

“Whisky casks are a unique investment. They offer unique characteristics and can complement a portfolio in good times or bad. With a real, intrinsic value whisky casks are unlike any other tangible asset. And with the demand for authentic, mature single-malt casks on the rise, they’re more lucrative than ever.”

taxes
ArticlesTax

Tax Evasion, Avoidance And Efficiency: Which Are Legal?

taxes

Tax Evasion, Avoidance And Efficiency: Which Are Legal?

Tax is a subject close to the hearts of most individuals, and business owners.  3 terms frequently used in conversations around tax savings are tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax efficiency.

James Turner, Director at York-based Turner Little, tells us that these are themes that run through most conversations with clients, old and new, and it is his job to ensure that clients are correctly advised on the legal stand point of tax efficiency, and tax avoidance, to ensure that no client unwittingly falls into the trap of tax evasion. 

“Tax efficiency, explains James, is what the majority of people are trying to achieve. It is understanding the best ways to legally make the most of your personal or business income that is the key to success. There are a number of ways to make sure your income is as tax efficient as possible, and as a result ensuring that you maximise your income. Our job, when advising people in relation to tax matters, is not only to provide guidance that is consistent with the letter of the law, but also to ensure our clients comply with the spirit of the law.   

“Tax avoidance, is where an individual or company, utilises tax systems to legally minimise their tax liabilities, for example, contributing to a pension scheme or incorporating and trading from a tax-efficient jurisdiction.  When structures are set up correctly, these ensure the person or company pays as little tax as possible whilst staying within the letter, and spirit, of the law.

“Tax evasion on the other hand is where a person, or company intentionally sets out to not pay tax, either business or personal and they do so through lying, hiding and cheating the system. Turner Little are often approached by people looking to find a way to do this, and we always tell these clients that we cannot do business with them.   

In terms of UK tax efficiency for the lay person, there are a number of vehicles available, set up by Government, that can be utilised to make your income more tax efficient. These include using pensions, ISAs, checking you are on the correct tax code, and using HMRCs Marriage Allowance to transfer some of your earnings to a lower rate tax paying husband or wife. By taking advantage of the numerous government allowances each year, you can bring your tax liabilities down. For businesses, investments around Venture Capital Trusts, and Enterprise Investment Schemes could also maximise your bottom line. 

 

ISAs

ISAs are the most widely recognised investment method, set up by the government to specifically encourage savings and investments by offering generous and accessible tax breaks. You can invest up to £20,000 each year, without paying tax, and any capital invested into an ISA is allowed to grow in a tax-free environment. This means, that any income derived will also be exempt from taxes

 

Pensions

With pensions, money is exempt from tax on the way in, exempted when it is invested and only taxed on the way out. Pension contributions are tax-free up to your annual allowance, and, like ISAs, are also allowed to grow in a tax-free environment. Once you have paid into a pension scheme, the amount can be further invested into assets, which provide an income or growth without the need to pay tax.

 

Venture Capital Fund Investment

Investment in a Venture Capital Investment Fund is an excellent way to reduce either personal, or company profits. 30% of the capital amount investment can be claimed back via personal tax reductions. Investors can inject up to £200,000.00 into the Fund, in order to claim the maximum tax savings.  Shares in the venture capital fund must be kept for 5 years otherwise the tax relief will have to be paid back. Investing in a Venture Capital Fund will also afford savings on Capital Gains Tax on profits from selling your VCT shares. Dividends from the fund are also received tax free.

 

There are also other ways that individuals and businesses can legally reduce their tax liability.

 

Using a Trust or Foundation

A useful vehicle in long term asset management, and succession planning is creation and utilisation of a Trust or Foundation.   Gifts of assets into Trust or Foundations, including property, money and pension funds, remove them from your estate, meaning that in the event of death, not only do you have full control over who receives the asset, but the recipient also will not be required to pay inheritance tax.  As the asset is no longer your own, it belongs to the Trustees, should you need later life residential care, the value of the asset will not be eroded. The timing of gifts into Trust is crucial as such gifts can still form a part of your estate should you die with seven years of making the gift.   

Foundations work in a similar way, in terms of the inheritance tax savings. Foundations are interested in controlling your assets for a specific group of people or purpose, of your choosing, rather than individuals, as is usually the case with the trust. 

Trusts and foundations are very specialised areas. Obtaining specialised advice when implementing Trust and Foundations is essential to ensure that the structure implemented meets your specific needs.

 

Offshore Company Formation

The world today is a very small place, and many businesses trade globally, thanks to the ubiquity created by the internet.  Businesses can therefore place themselves in the most tax efficient jurisdiction to suit the needs of the business owner, and their clients.

It is important to note that tax rules constantly change, and efficiencies depend on individual circumstances. For more information, please visit www.turnerlittle.com

Turner Little do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. We would always advise that you seek advice from an independent financial adviser.

Turner Little specialises in creating bespoke solutions for individuals and businesses of all sizes. The knowledge and expertise of their specialists ensures that you will receive the best advice for your situation, no matter how complex.

fintech
ArticlesBankingWealth Management

Fintech Usage Jumps by Over 50% During the Lockdown Period

fintech

Fintech Usage Jumps by Over 50% During the Lockdown Period, with 21% Securing New Financial Products Without Speaking to a Single Human Being

A new survey of more than 2,000 UK adults commissioned by Yobota has uncovered how integral technology has been for people managing their finances during the lockdown. It found that:

• 64% of UK adults have been reliant on technology to manage their finances since March, up from the 42% before the lockdown.

• Checking accounts (88%), transferring money (80%), withdrawing funds out of an investment (35%) and searching for new financial products (27%) have been the most common uses of fintech.

• 21% have secured new financial products without speaking to a human being.

• 15% of people have been frustrated by their banks’ poor technology. 

• The figure rises to 28% among those aged between 18 and 34.

 
The majority of Britons have relied on financial technology (fintech) to manage their finances during the lockdown, new research from Yobota has revealed. 
 
The London-based technology company commissioned an independent survey among more than 2,000 UK adults. It found that 64% have become reliant on mobile and online banking to manage their finances since March, which is a sharp increase from before the lockdown, when just 42% of the nation were using fintech.
 
The most common uses of fintech have been checking one’s accounts (88%), transferring money (80%), closing or withdrawing funds out of an investment (35%) and shopping around for new financial products (27%). Millions of people have also used fintech to open new savings accounts (26%), apply for credit cards (18%), and extend overdrafts (17%).
 
Over a fifth (21%) of fintech users said they have successfully secured new financial products during the lockdown without having to speak to a single human being. 
 
However, Yobota’s research also exposed that 15% of consumers have been frustrated by their banks’ poor technology, with this figure rising to 28% among those aged between 18 and 34.
 
One in three (31%) people say the lockdown has opened their eyes to how many different ways technology can be used to manage their finances, with 42% planning to continue using tech much more even as bank branches re-open.
 
Underlining the increasing importance of fintech, almost half (47%) of consumers say their tech offering is a “key consideration” when choosing a financial services provider.
 
Ammar Akhtar, CEO of Yobota, said: “In light of the financial distress caused by COVID-19, millions of Britons have needed fast access to loans, credit cards and overdrafts, not to mention advice and guidance. Crucially, they have had to rely on mobile and online banking for almost all of this.
 
“Today’s research shows how some people have found managing their finances during the lockdown simple thanks to the advanced, easy-to-use fintech solutions deployed by their providers. However, others have clearly been frustrated and let down by their bank’s technology. 
 
“This must be addressed. Even as the lockdown passes, people will not be in any rush to queue up in bank branches or have lengthy telephone calls, meaning financial services companies must keep pace with the demand for fintech. As the survey results show, those who don’t risk losing customers.”

Retirement
ArticlesCash ManagementPensions

Forward Planning: 7 Easy Tips for Managing Your Retirement Savings

Retirement

Forward Planning: 7 Easy Tips for Managing Your Retirement Savings

We’ve all dreamed about a blissful retirement, spending more time with the people we love, in places we love and doing things we love. But is it just a pipe dream, or are you financially prepared for the life you wish to lead?

The good news is, it’s never too early to start preparing for retirement. Whilst most of us spend our twenties paying off student debt, as we approach our thirties, our financial priorities change somewhat as we’ve technically been there, done that, got the house, mortgage and family. It’s a time when we experience career progression, leading to promotions, bigger salaries and more funds that can be stashed away for later years.

To help you begin forward planning for the future, Alex MacEwen, expert at The Wealth Consultant has come up with 7 easy tips to get you on your way to achieving the retirement you imagine.

 

Before we begin, you might be thinking just how much stashing away should we do? According to research commissioned by finder.com:

– 55% of UK adults estimate that they will need £100,000 to live comfortably in retirement.

– Only 28% of people believe they are on target to meet this.

– The recommended amount for a comfortable retirement is between £260,000 – £445,000.

 

Shocked? Maybe it’s time to start planning the life you deserve.

 

1. Get independent financial advice

The future is an unknown – How should I save for retirement? Am I saving enough? How much will I need to live on? By enlisting the help of a professional, independent advisor, you will find the answers to all these vital questions. Your independent financial advisor will help you plan and make decisions based on your lifetime goals. They will advise on the various products that most suit your needs instead of pushing a product to boost their sales.

 

2. Create a realistic spending plan

Determine a budget by assessing your income, salary, interest, dividends, any rental income or child support. Define your outgoings, housing bills, utilities, transport, food, perhaps you are still paying off student loans. Decide on the things you really could sacrifice in the name of saving – do you need so many European city breaks? Are you still paying membership fees for facilities you never use because you keep forgetting to cancel the membership? Scrutinise your balance sheet and commit to saving as much as you can. Your future self will thank you, trust me.

 

3. Monitor old and new workplace pensions

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of landing a new job and just as easy to lose track of your old workplace pension! But it is important to keep track to know the value of your pension pot as this will help you decide whether it’s worth merging the old pension with the new one, and will give you an idea of how much you have saved for the future. It’s important to check the pension management fees as your previous employer will stop making contributions to old funds once you change jobs, the fees keep rolling, depleting your pension pot in the process. If you have a defined contribution pension, it is always worth checking where your pension funds have been invested, both from a risk level perspective and to ensure it aligns with your values.

 

4. Review investment performance

Keep track of your investments to ensure your portfolio is flourishing. If something isn’t working, figure out why. Perhaps it’s just a case of sitting tight and keeping your cool, or maybe time to diversify into a different sector or explore international opportunities to minimise losses. Remember, even if you have a few disappointing investments in your portfolio, a portfolio that is steadily increasing in value is always a sign that conditions are good.

 

5. Minimise retirement tax

After spending a lifetime working and sensibly putting money away for retirement, it’s important to ensure you keep as much as that money as possible. How? By ensuring your savings are as tax efficient as possible. This will mean working with an experienced financial advisor to ensure you are making use of all the tax allowances and pension tax relief.

 

6. Estate planning

Your inheritance and estate plan should set out your values and your intentions for how you wish your estate to be divided up and managed when the time comes. By focusing on your estate planning now, you can manage your tax obligations and safeguard the financial stability of those you hold dear. Inheritance matters can be challenging emotionally and financially, so it’s important to get professional advice and protect your wealth for future generations.

 

7. Save as much as you can

Save as much as you can, while you can. Achieving your dream retirement means making small short-term sacrifices in favour of saving for the future life you want. Remember, topping up your pension now means you will benefit from tax relief up to the annual limit of £40,000.

markets
ArticlesTransactional and Investment Banking

Ten Credit Markets Warnings Signalling Long-Term Alpha Opportunity

markets

Ten Credit Markets Warnings Signalling Long-Term Alpha Opportunity

The longest equity bull market since the Second World War led to high valuations and increased leverage. Now as the cycle turns, valuation multiples will inevitably contract and high debt levels will put pressure across the capital structure.

The weak structure of the credit markets and reduced liquidity will likely lead to increased volatility, more downgrades, increased default rates, lower recoveries and stronger terms for new lenders in a post Covid-19 world.

Below, Marc SYZ, managing partner of SYZ Capital, highlights ten warning signals that encapsulate the deteriorating fundamentals and illustrate the potential long-term alpha opportunities for alternative investors.

 

Complacent credit agencies

Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), we have seen a sharp deterioration in net leverage across the board. As an example, BB rated bonds are now more levered than single B bonds were in the GFC. The inevitable rating downgrade to come can therefore only be a lagging indicator.

 

Corporate leverage expands threefold

Since 2009, GDP has grown 47% – from $14.6trn to 21.5trn – while corporate credit markets have increased almost threefold. While US household debt has marginally increased by 10% over the period, and housing related debt has remained stable, the sub-investment grade market has vastly expanded, both in high yield bonds and leveraged loans.

 

Elevated leverage puts PE under pressure

Leverage has gone up on average 1.5x across the board since the GFC, and even 3-4x for some cyclical sectors – such as retail, travel and leisure. These will be the first to suffer. Looking at LBO loans, the debt level is also significantly higher. The leverage for large LBOs is even more extreme, with a debt/EBITDA ratio greater than 6x for roughly 60% of universe – double its pre-crisis average.

 

EBITDA adjustments on the way

The published leverage ratios above may be misleading as adjustments – such as add-backs, proforma, etc. – often account for 20% of published EBITDA, which leads on average to a 1x leverage increase from published numbers.

 

Growth of weakening covenants

Covenant-lite loans have increased significantly since the GFC and now represent more than 80% of the $1.2trn US leveraged loan market. Without these protections, company performance can deteriorate materially before triggering a credit event.

 

Rising default rates

Annual default rates peaked at about 10% in the last recessions – reaching about 13% during the GFC. This time around, as a direct result of no or little covenants, we expect a much lower default rate in the short term, but deteriorating metrics and potentially higher default rates by the end of 2020.

 

Lower recoveries

The absence of covenants allows borrowers to ‘kick the can down the road’, as lenders do not have the possibility to exercise oversight and act before it is too late. This time around, we should expect lower recoveries, as the credit event will likely occur when the financial conditions and balance sheet of the borrower have materially deteriorated.

 

Passive investor base

Since the GFC, we have seen a tremendous growth in passive investment products, or actively managed ones with rigid investment mandates often associated with liquidity mismatch. As per leveraged loans and particularly relevant for the private equity industry, their ownership is dominated by CLOs, which in turn are owned by a variety of bank

and nonbank lenders. Most of these passive investors have ‘bucketed’ mandates and may become forced sellers upon a downgrade.

 

Lack of liquidity

Market making activities significantly declined since the GFC because many banks exited the business and those remaining had to shrink this activity. As an example, dealer high yield inventories fell from $40bn to $3bn, and overall corporate bonds inventories declined from $250bn to $30bn.

 

Rise in volatility

As the credit agencies catch up with downgrades, this will cause many distressed opportunities as some passive investors will be forced to dispose of securities that no longer fit their mandate.

The weakest segment of the market is the lower investment grade BBB bonds. As these get downgraded to sub-investment grade in an environment characterised by limited liquidity and a much smaller natural audience for high yield paper, the price drops of such ‘fallen angels’ will be important.

Downgrades will trigger forced selling. Such forced selling will occur in a low liquidity environment, creating excessive price drops and volatility. The current environment will create various opportunities for our flagship strategy across its investment verticals.

Distressed investing, restructuring, litigation financing and secondaries appear to be well positioned, but also private equity, as not all companies will be equally affected. High growth can still be found in a recessionary environment for patient, disciplined, diligent and selective investors.