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The Dangers of Supply Chain Finance in the COVID-19 Era

Supply Chain Finance has been gaining in popularity over the past few years. Instead of forcing vendors to wait 30 or 60 days to get paid for their receivables, retailers have discovered that they can get a several percent discount in exchange for paying their vendors early. It seemed like a win-win, vendors get the cash flow they need, and large retailers get a discount at a rate that far exceeds interest rates. Of course, all of this changed over the past few months as our nation, and the world, have been gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suddenly, retailers have been forced to shut their doors with no plan for when they may be able to reopen. While their customers have been laid off, furloughed, or taken pay cuts, and those who have managed to maintain their jobs are more concerned with purchasing essentials and saving money in case they too become an economic casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention, many consumers simply don’t feel safe leaving their homes for anything that isn’t essential. As a result, these retailers have found it best to hold onto their money for as long as they can, and most have either extended payment terms (with or without permission) or are simply paying invoices well beyond the due date. For small vendors that have relied on supply chain finance, they now find themselves in a very difficult position.

One of the major retailers who offers supply chain financing is TJX (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Homegoods). When stay at home orders were first issued, TJX told all their vendors that they would be extending terms on all of their invoices from 30 to 90 days, although they reversed that decision a couple weeks later due to the backlash they received from the vendors. However, by that point the damage had already been done. Many vendors were unable to get the early payment they rely on, and due to the closure of their corporate headquarters and a need to catch up, many invoices were still paid well beyond terms. Companies that were used to getting paid within 5-10 days were now waiting 45 days to get paid, and this was at a time when sales had pretty much dried up. It also appears that for the immediate future, any new orders from TJX will have terms of 90 days, making it unlikely that they would be willing to offer early payment. Unfortunately, TJX was far from the only major retailer to extend terms or simply fall behind on their bills.

Of course, it also isn’t just an issue of cash flow anymore, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be just as deadly for businesses as it is for the people it infects. While all non-essential businesses had been forced to close their doors temporarily to flatten the curve, many of these businesses will be closing them permanently as a result of no revenue but continuing expenses. If the retail apocalypse wasn’t bad enough before the pandemic, the recent wave of bankruptcies has been incredible. Already we have seen J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, Stage Stores, and True Religion have all filed bankruptcy during the pandemic. Lord and Taylor has avoided bankruptcy, but has announced they will be holding going out of business sales as soon as they are allowed to reopen. L Brands (Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works) will not be filing, but will be permanently closing 250 stores. While Pier 1 Imports and Art Van Furniture, both who filed bankruptcy prior to stay-at-home orders being issued, were forced to change their bankruptcy plans and completely liquidate. Of course, the retail sector is far from the only industry being hit with bankruptcies, hospitality, entertainment, and health clubs have also been filing for bankruptcy at an incredible rate. Sadly, these companies are only the beginning, with many more considering their options as well.

Even worse, the dangers of bankruptcy are actually compounded by supply chain finance. Many businesses don’t feel the need to carry credit insurance if their customers offer supply chain financing. The logic behind this is that there is no risk if a company is paying them early. However, the decision to pay early is entirely up to the customer, as is the amount of the discount that they will take. Prior to filing for bankruptcy in 2017, Toys’R’Us utilized the popular C2FO platform for supply chain financing. Towards the end they started demanding larger and larger discounts in return for early payments. Further complicating matters is US bankruptcy law in regards to receiving preferential payment. When a company files for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court can demand that any preferential payments made within 90 days of the filing be returned to the court. When a vendor offers a discount in exchange for an early payment, there is no question that the vendor has received a preferential payment and will be forced to return the payment to the court. So vendors that offered double digit discounts that Toys’R’Us accepted, ultimately would have had to return the funds if they were received within 90 days of the filing. Had they waited until the invoice was due and gotten paid in full, they probably would have been able to keep their money.

With many businesses reopening at this time, there is still a question of how many of them will be able to survive. With consumers spending less money these days, and spending in unpredictable ways, combined with a fear of whether it is even safe to go out in public, revenues will continue to remain low for the foreseeable future. Yet these companies will need to rehire much of their workforce and continue to make rent, pay utilities, and interest payments on debt. For businesses such as restaurants and movie theaters, who will need to reopen at reduced capacities, there is a question as to whether or not they will be able to remain profitable. Unfortunately, most experts are predicting that even though businesses are starting to reopen now, many businesses that have survived so far might not make it through to the end of the year. Even with companies that emerge from the lockdowns with strong sales, there is still the question of whether or not they would be willing to pay invoices quicker, the current trend is that most companies are requesting longer payment terms. Of course, none of this takes into account the possibility of a second wave of infections and subsequent closures.

Relying on supply chain financing to improve your cash flow may have worked for the last few years, but it is doubtful that it will be as reliable moving forward. Furthermore, wholesalers need to be more careful than ever about who they are selling to. The only thing worse than getting paid slowly is not getting paid at all. Paying for credit insurance on top of supply chain financing can be extremely costly, especially for businesses that do less than $10 million a year. Not to mention, the credit insurance companies have been hesitant to take on new clients, and have slashed credit limits across the board for their existing clients.

There is a solution to this problem, and that is accounts receivable factoring. With accounts receivable factoring you sell your receivables to a factoring company, and can be funded the same day you ship the merchandise, making it a much quicker turnaround than supply chain finance. Furthermore, your factoring company is responsible for monitoring your customers and establishing appropriate credit limits. If the factoring company offers non-recourse factoring, then not only do you receive improved cash flow, but they also insure your receivables, eliminating the need for costly credit insurance. Just like supply chain finance, when you factor your receivables you are not taking on any new debt as your factoring company is purchasing your receivables from you. The best part, however, is that accounts receivable factoring is available for all of your accounts and costs no more than supply chain financing. Plus, since factoring rates are fixed, it takes away all the guess work associated with supply chain finance and can easily get built into your margins. Want to learn how easy it is to improve your cash flow with accounts receivable factoring? Give DSA Factors a call today at 773-248-9000 and we will be happy to speak with you.

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