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Expert warns of firms rebuilding too quickly

A SCOTTISH insolvency expert has warned companies which expand too quickly as the economy picks up are vulnerable to failure through overtrading.

questions: Rapid growth following a recession can be risky for firms.
questions: Rapid growth following a recession can be risky for firms.

Tom MacLennan, the restructuring specialist who joined FRP Advisory from RSM Tenon last year, says he does not expect 2014 to be a busy year for corporate insolvencies.

But he highlighted the risk to companies in running out of capital by expanding too quickly following the recession.

Mr MacLennan, who is joined at FRP with former Tenon colleague Iain Fraser, said: "Most businesses have shrunk their balance sheets during the recession.

"In building back up, [there is risk] where businesses start trading at a high level and balance sheets are not strong enough.

"The question is, will banks step in [to provide credit], or will it be invoice financiers? They [invoice financiers] will only provide 70 percent."

Mr MacLennan highlighted the strength in FRP's focus on advisory, restructuring and insolvency work, comparing it with full-service accountants, where restructuring is only part of the remit.

He said referrals come from a wide range of sources, including company directors, LLP members, banks and private equity houses. The firm is currently busy with advice on professional practices, assisting hotels and work relating to a "tail of property stuff" stemming from the recession.

Mr MacLennan claimed the latest figures on corporate insolvencies from Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB), which showed a 70.6 percent rise compared to the first quarter of 2013, do not paint a true picture of business health in Scotland.

Noting the figures, which showed there were 244 corporate insolvencies in Scotland in the quarter to March 3, compared with the same period last year, do not include businesses in administration, said: "The reality is HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs) winding up businesses that were dead anyway and they have gone into a spate of that since the turn of the year.

"The vast majority of these are not real businesses - probably most of them have stopped trading anyway. All they [HMRC] are doing is following up and liquidating businesses that have not paid VAT and PAYE. It doesn't feel like the market. It has not been a busy insolvency marketplace over last few months."

Mr MacLennan, who has worked in corporate restructuring since 1981, added: "I will have been doing this for 33 years in October.

"In terms of formal appointments, other than what you might call burial-type liquidations, I do not expect it to be a busy insolvency market during 2014 in Scotland. I do not think there will a huge volume of formal appointments of real businesses, i.e. businesses that are actively trading at the point of involvement.

"There is no doubt Easter last year there was been a gradual pegging up in confidence almost every month. You are mostly seeing that at the large business level - I don't think you are seeing it fully at the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) level."

However Mr MacLennan cautioned concern over the growth now being seen in the property market, observing that more residential property levels were now going to closing dates.

He said: "I'm seeing worrying signs that the property market is starting to run ahead of itself again, both residential and commercial. Real incomes haven't moved, and the house prices are starting to move again and you are getting back into competition.

"You're getting the big builders now actively building again and there's no doubt that the Help to Buy scheme has been a huge injection into that sector.

"The worrying part out of that is that whenever you get activity and money chasing a product, you get a re-evaluation and a re-evaluation of return. That's what happened between 2004 and 2008.

"There was cheap money around, so people re-assessed risk.

"There is a risk we forget the lesions of the property market very, very quickly again."

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