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COVID-19 Poised to Cause Severe Disruption to Indian Business Conditions

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COVID-19 Poised to Cause Severe Disruption to Indian Business Conditions

As in so many other countries in the world, turbulent skies lie ahead for India’s economy as a result of the widespread upheaval COVID-19 is leaving in its wake.

Analysts from trade credit insurer Atradius expect that the repercussions of the pandemic will be widespread in India, having dire consequences for trade and causing GDP to contract 3% and business insolvencies to increase more than 30% year-on-year in 2020. This negative outlook tracks with the scenario for the rest of the southeast Asian region, which overall is expected to see a 25% increase in insolvencies this year.

Trouble Brewing For India Ahead of COVID-19

The business environment in India ahead of the global crisis was already on the shaky side. Last year, India’s economy saw weak economic performance, growing only 5.3%, the lowest increase in more than six years. The government – led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reform-minded Bharatiya Janata Party – was focused on solving some of these economic issues, including resolving the banking sector’s bad debt and liberalizing foreign investment restrictions in key sectors. However, it remains to be seen whether those steps will make any difference when the coming wave of business and trade problems hit.

Although the lockdowns imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus have put an end to clashes for now, an economic downturn that plunges many Indians into poverty could renew and increase social tensions.

Indian Firms Face Significant Headwinds

The comprehensive lockdowns in India that began in late March have caused a drop in domestic demand and a sharp increase in unemployment. Investment and industrial production will likely contract, as well, leading to a 10% or more decline in exports this year. Lockdown measures have especially impacted the millions of daily wage earners and migrant workers employed in India’s informal sector.

Supply disruptions from China, where many manufacturing facilities stood idle for weeks, have caused issues for import-reliant industries, such as pharmaceuticals, consumer durables and electronic manufacturing. Although Chinese plants are largely up and running, supply chain problems could continue should a second spike in COVID-19 cases occur.

Finally, external demand for Indian products has plummeted as key export markets such as the U.S. and China are facing recessions. Although there is no clarity for how long recessions will linger, it is safe to say that export-dependent sectors are in for a tough ride.

All this means most of India’s key sectors are poised to see a deterioration of performance and rise in insolvencies. Specifically, the outlook is poor for India’s automotive and transport, construction and construction materials, consumer durables, electronics and ICT, machines, metals, paper, services, steel and textiles industries. As of this writing, the only major sector with a positive outlook is food.

SMEs, which do not have the financial resilience as larger firms, will likely bear the brunt of the insolvency growth. Even though the Indian government has put forth a sizable stimulus package worth USD 266 billion that includes tax breaks for SMEs and domestic manufacturing incentives, the fundamental weaknesses of the economy represents a severe limit on how much protection the government is ultimately able to provide. In comparison to India’s stimulus package, which Citi analysts peg at around 4% of GDP, Singapore, one of the most stable economies in the region, passed stimulus measures worth more than 10% of GDP.

A Rapid Rebound in India Not Likely

 High corporate debt and the problems plaguing India’s financial sector pre-pandemic will likely get in the way of a quick rebound of the economy. In late 2018, the default of IL&FS, India’s large infrastructure financing and construction company, led to concerns about the financial standing of other non-bank lenders and straining corporate and consumer debt markets. In addition, India’s banks carry a high amount of bad debt – non-performing loans accounted for approximately 9% of bank lending last year.

At the same time, the rupee is seeing depreciation pressure and is at risk of volatility in coming months – a scenario caused in part by the withdrawal of global investments in emerging markets in Q1 as financial markets have become more risk averse since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. For Indian firms, this adds to already significant cashflow issues, especially those with high loans in foreign currencies.

The extent and duration of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncertain, but Indian firms face a variety of significant headwinds. Many won’t survive. For businesses trading with Indian companies, it’s imperative that they closely monitor the financial health of trade partners and mitigate credit risk to protect cash flow.

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Gordon Cessford is the President and Regional Director of North America for Atradius Trade Credit Insurance, Inc.

risk management

Strategic Risk Management Means Preparing for the Worst but Hoping for the Best

Trading globally comes with risks. You’re operating in a foreign market with different rules, regulations and business practices, not to mention the lack of geographic proximity makes it difficult to keep tabs on your trading partner and ensure the relationship is strong and payments will be made promptly. That said, those risks can be minimized with a smart risk management strategy that tips the risk/reward balance in your company’s favor.

A smart risk management strategy begins with a solid foundation in research that takes a macro look at the market and a micro look at your trading partner and their sector. For the former, the World Bank’s ease of doing business index can provide valuable information on business regulations in nearly 200 economies. Trade credit insurers can also help you keep tabs on specific markets and sectors.

To better understand your trading partner, start by researching the cultural elements of doing business in that market. Making a mistake can negatively affect or even end your relationship with your trading partner. Ask colleagues about any business culture etiquette you should be aware of, and review your notes before making the initial introduction. Getting this part correct will help you forge a strong relationship moving forward.

Next, take your time before signing any contracts. It may be tempting to quickly jump into a new opportunity, but if you rush through the documentation process, neglect to have a lawyer review the terms of your agreement or fail to validate your trading partner’s sound financial standing, you could end up with major headaches in the future.

Once you have an agreement in place, figure out how to maintain a close relationship with your trading partner. You don’t want to find out too late that your trading partner is in distress – you want to be aware of the first signs of trouble so you can take steps to protect yourself against late payment or nonpayment. Some of the classic signs of a company headed for insolvency include sudden late payments, pushing back for discounts or a drop-off in communication.

If your customer is overseas, don’t assume email and phone calls will be enough. A local presence is advised, as this is the only real way to understand the subtle shifts occurring in the local market and with your trading partner. How you establish the local presence will depend on the size of your opportunity. Large business deals may require establishing a foreign office, while appointing a local agent or having an employee visit frequently may suffice for smaller opportunities.

Finally, have contingency plans in place to cover any and all likely scenarios, including disruptions to trade via major events (such as the coronavirus shutting down production facilities in China or the trade wars suddenly making input materials more expensive) or delinquent customers. For the former scenario, you’ll want to understand how political or economic developments will impact your costs and know how you’ll pivot, if needed.

For delinquent customers, your first step should be establishing the facts and uncovering what’s actually going on. If the customer proves slippery and evasive, consider engaging a third-party expert to mediate. Review your contract terms to make a list of options available to you – can you recover your goods? Or is it time to start the legal collection process?

Strategic risk management is really about preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. A thorough understanding of the market, the sector and your trading partners, paired with detailed plans for how to react to any likely scenarios will minimize the risks to your business and help you feel confident conquering new markets.

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Gordon Cessford is the president and regional director of North America for Atradius Trade Credit Insurance, Inc.

COVID-19

The Human Factor of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Corruption

With the explosive spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) hospitals, healthcare providers and all citizens are finding a shortage of goods and services and employees are under increased pressure to preserve and excel in their current roles.

Unfortunately, in this time of crisis corruption is thriving and some aim to profit from others’ misfortune and push companies to the brink to maintain profits.

Around the world, countries are reporting shortages in both medicines and medical supplies due to COVID-19. All of these factors put additional strain on already fragile procurement processes and increases the risk that suppliers, knowing that government and individuals have little choice but to pay, demand higher prices.

In these challenging times having open and transparent contracting processes in place helps mitigate these risks. With nowhere to hide, corrupt actors are unable to practice price gouging and must charge governments and individuals reasonable prices.

The stockpiling of supplies such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers are also contributing to shortages in medical supplies. In attempts to profit from public panic, some traders have been inflating prices for ordinary consumers.

After pressure from the Department of Justice, Amazon has implemented an effort to remove tens of thousands of deals from merchants that it said attempted to price-gouge customers. The world’s largest online retailer has faced scrutiny over the health-related offers on its platform, and earlier this week, Italy launched a probe into surging prices around the internet for sanitizing gels and hygiene masks. At the same time, Italy battles the biggest outbreak in Europe.

There are lessons to be learned in health-sector Corruption elsewhere from prior epidemics such as Ebola and SARS where procurement and contracting wrongdoing led to deadly consequences. In prior epidemics, Corruption compromised containment efforts, when corrupt actors used petty bribes and other favors to avoid quarantines, roadblocks, and safe body collection procedures. Even ventilators and other medical oxygen-related equipment have been the subject of bribes and kickbacks, sometimes leading to the tragic deaths of patients. These examples demonstrate the worst case of what can happen without resilient anti-corruption policies.

In the first federal action against fraud involving the coronavirus outbreak, the DOJ obtained a temporary restraining order against a website selling a bogus vaccine.

The DOJ said Sunday, March 21st, that operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were engaging in an alleged wire fraud scheme to profit from the confusion and fear surrounding COVID-19.

The website claimed to offer customers access to the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. There are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines, and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine.

Besides compliance issues with third party business practices with goods and services, companies are experiencing enormous business pressure. Many companies have salespeople who cannot travel due to precautions taken, canceled flights, or, worse, quarantines. They cannot visit customers or partners, leading to slower sales. Global supply chains are disrupted, with shortages of parts and products. Company events and conferences are being canceled, resulting in fewer opportunities to build relationships with customers and market products. Customer demand for company products may be falling, and companies may be declining to make revenue projections during this time of uncertainty about the spread and effects of the coronavirus.

These disruptions can increase the pressure on salespeople to meet their sales targets. Salespeople may feel additional pressure now, when sales may be sluggish, and again when business gets back to normal, and they want to make up for the time lost. That pressure can lead some people to make the wrong choices—to engage in bribery or other misconduct—to generate business. Besides, the heightened emphasis on business priorities due to the losses from the coronavirus can push anti-corruption compliance further down on the priority list.

If/when the DOJ and SEC discover bribery or Corruption, they assuredly will not be accepting a “coronavirus defense” from companies. Compliance officers should be aware of situations like the coronavirus that could raise corruption risks and try to guard against them. Compliance officers should refer explicitly to the disruption caused by the coronavirus and emphasize that the company is committed to complying with anti-corruption laws. The communications must be to the employees who need to see them, such as salespeople who interact with customers, or “gatekeeper” functions like finance who review financial transactions.

Most importantly, senior executives and the board, if appropriate, need to make sure that the business pressures resulting from the coronavirus do not overshadow the company’s commitment to compliance and that values and ethics are maintained.

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For more information or questions, please contact Frank Orlowski at frank@ationadvisory.com or +1917-821-2147 and please visit our website at www.ationadvisory.com