As the macroeconomic situation continues to deteriorate, unions are warning of the difficulties some companies are encountering in repaying their state-guaranteed loans (PGE) and URSSAF charges. The risk of serial business failures is higher than ever.
The message was clear from the first days of the health crisis: maintain business cash flow despite the pandemic, at all costs. On March 17, 2020, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire announced 300 billion euros in state guarantees on bank loans, ” which means that today banks no longer have any reason to refuse any loan whatsoever to any company whatsoever “.
Two years later, 137 billion euros in PGEs were granted to more than 660,000 companies in December 2021, according to a count by the Court of Auditors. 88% of subscribers are very small businesses (TPE).
If the device has been able to keep many companies afloat, many are now struggling to reimburse this PGE, the first reimbursement installments of which began in May 2022.
” Reimbursement [du] surplus net debt generated by the health crisis and the subscription of the PGE is conditional on the good recovery of economic activity. However, at the end of 2021, the return to growth during the year 2021 seemed mixed for the beneficiaries of the PGE », underlines a report of the Court of Auditors, published at the end of July.
At issue is record inflation driven largely by rising energy prices and supply chain disruptions.
The war in Ukraine from February 2022 and the increase in the minimum wage of around 3% since the start of the year are also factors that are jeopardizing the good economic health of certain companies that have subscribed to a PGE.
“20 to 30% of TPE in trouble”
” Between the reimbursement of the PGE and the URSSAF charges, companies must pay an average of 900 euros more per month “, analyzes Jean-Guilhem Darré, general delegate of the Syndicate of the self-employed and VSEs (SDI), for EURACTIV.
It is an impossible mission for some of them, especially in catering and tourism. The macroeconomic context does not allow a return to normal for their activities.
The Court of Auditors explains that: the companies that used the scheme were in a slightly more difficult financial situation than the average company before the crisis “.
In fact, the SDI warns of the risk of bankruptcies, if the State does nothing to support the companies most at risk.
The union relies on July 2022 statistics from the Banque de France (BDF), which point out that 34,653 companies closed shop in one year. If this number remains below the figures for 2019, before the pandemic, they are up 23.1% compared to July 2021.
” We estimate that 20 to 30% of VSEs are struggling, i.e. between 120,000 to 180,000 companies. If nothing is done, I don’t think they will be able to last more than six to eight months. “, explains Mr. Darré. ” I have lost count of the number of business leaders who have stopped paying themselves a salary, so as not to cut corners on their cash flow. “.
Public authorities unconcerned
However, public institutions do not seem worried. The Court of Auditors estimates that the probability of default will remain limited, “ between 3.1% and 4.2% “, while the BDF expects 4.6%.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the Ministry of the Economy agrees: we have not observed any significant increase in claims while almost three-quarters of companies that have subscribed to a PGE are now required to repay.
For the companies most at risk, recourse to the credit mediator of the BDF is planned: this is the meaning of the agreement between the Ministry of the Economy, the BDF and the French Banking Federation signed in February, which allows small businesses having subscribed to a PGE of less than 50,000 euros and facing financial difficulties to spread out the reimbursement.
” The use of mediation is very positive for the company because it benefits both from the restructuring of the PGE and other bank debts as well as an agreement on short-term financing, which allows it to secure its cash on coming years “, analyzes Frédéric Visnovsky, national credit mediator at the BDF.
Existing but contested solutions
Mr. Darré does not share this opinion. For him, “sFollowing mediation, the company was declared in default of payment by the Banque de France, which made access to new financing particularly complicated. Business leaders are reluctant“.
” When you are in default, the credit insurers withdraw, which means that you have to pay your suppliers immediately, and that only makes the situation worse. “, also advanced François Asselin, president of the Confederation of SMEs (CPME), in the columns of South West end of July.
A reality that could explain the low number of files filed with the mediator: 304 since February 2022, while 288,000 PGEs are beginning to be reimbursed.
” The fear of the declaration of default may partly explain the low use of the device admits Mr. Visnovsky to EURACTIV, but companies’ lack of knowledge of the rules is also glaring: if a company cannot ensure the repayment of its PGE maturities (or other bank debts), it will be declared in default even without restructuring, it therefore has every interest in using the system “.
The unions still hope for new measures to make reimbursement obligations more flexible and they intend to influence the debates around the finance bill (PLF) and the social security financing bill (PLFSS).