Forecasting during a pandemic part 4

Plan, review and adjust

Your budget should be your best estimate of what is likely to occur based on current knowledge.  To manage change, you can scenario plan where your budget forms the baseline, but you also forecast best and worst case scenarios based on potential risks and their likelihood (for example, the impact of another lockdown). Or, the simplest method is to use your budget as a baseline and regularly review and adjust depending on current conditions.

The greatest risk to your profit is unlikely to come from your cost structure. It is more likely to be revenue volatility. Keep your eye on your cost structure and make sensible cuts where appropriate. But, in your search for savings don’t remove your essential revenue generating capacity that you need.

A lack of profit will eventually erode your business, but not enough cash will kill it stone dead. Businesses will fail because they don’t manage their cash position. Plan, track and measure your cashflow. This not only means closely monitoring your debtor collections and inventory but also running a rolling three month cashflow position. This should provide an early warning of brewing problems.

Manage your debt levels carefully (your bank is likely to). While there is nothing wrong with debt, it is likely that the banks will be closely watching customer accounts. Where you have loan facilities in place make sure that you understand the loan terms and any debt covenants that you have entered into. These covenants could include regular reporting to the bank, debtor and working capital ratios, or debt to equity ratios. Where the banks may have been more relaxed about these in the past, this year will be different. If you believe that you need additional funding, talk to your bank early and don’t wait until the last minute. You’ll need to present your case on why you need it, how much, for how long and when it will be repaid.

Cash flows, operating budgets, cost control and debt management all need to be part of your business management. The more in control you are the lower your risk position.

Understand the external environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has implications well beyond the economy; it has changed how business operates and how consumers act. While comparisons are made to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, the reality is, we have no case study. There is no rule book for the post pandemic road to recovery as this is not an economic event. The pandemic pulls the economy up short curtailing both supply and demand; businesses are not operating at capacity and fewer people are working.

The Federal Budget is released on 6 October and we’re expecting to see the Government invest heavily in job creating projects. Many of these will be focussed on infrastructure. Each of these projects will have a flow through effect to the broader economy. We’ll bring you our insights the day after the budget and you should loom to see if there are opportunities your business can capture.

Understanding your supply chain is important. Risk manage and plan for changing conditions. For example, what is your business’s ability to manage a surge in demand, do you have a small supply base and what would happen if your primary supplier went into bankruptcy, do you have a good flow of information across your supply chain or is there a lack of transparency and knowledge, do transport problems risk your ability to supply? Assess it, understand it, and manage the risks.

When it comes to demand, there is no instant fix. The RBA suggests the decline in GDP in the first half of 2020 is around 7% and the contraction in hours worked around 10%. The economic impact of the restrictions in Melbourne extend well beyond Victoria and are impacting more generally on consumer sentiment. This week we expect Australia to have a formal “recession” label added to our economy, formalising what most business operators already know.

But it is not all bad news with confidence lifting on early signs that revenue is no longer declining for the majority of Australian businesses. The latest ABS data on the impact of COVID-19 shows fewer businesses reported a decline in revenue in August (41%) compared to July (46%), and fewer still expect a decline in September (28%). 

However, 35% of businesses expect it to be “difficult or very difficult” to meet financial commitments over the next three months, with small and medium businesses almost twice as likely as large businesses to fall into this category. Understandably, the response to this question is heavily weighted towards those operating under Government required restrictions and lockdowns.

The RBA is working with three scenarios for Australia’s economic outlook: a baseline, upside and downside scenario. In the baseline scenario, conditions improve in the second half of 2020 and slowly improve over 2021 and 2022 but fall short of returning to pre COVID forecasts with Victoria’s lockdown not materially extended and Australia’s international borders remaining closed until mid 2021. The upside scenario saw no extension of the Melbourne lockdown, and further easing of Government restrictions nationally, which in turn bolster consumer confidence, encouraging spending and the reversal of GDP decline over 2020-21. The downside scenario envisages a global resurgence in infections with Australia facing periodic outbreaks and rolling lockdowns. The RBA notes that the downside scenario has a sharper fall than the increase of the upside scenario because of the damage to consumer confidence of further lockdowns.

Business investment is also expected to be relatively flat with the ABS survey showing that 37% of those surveyed had no actual or planned expenditure. Of those that are spending, IT hardware and software, and equipment and machinery topped the list. The instant asset write-off is helping to stimulate business investment in the small and medium business sector. In general, large businesses are paying down debt rather than spending and small and medium businesses have not sought to extend debt to fund investment.

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