April 2023 news summary
Media reports from recent weeks indicate that the situation of individual industries at risk of losing financial liquidity is not significantly improving. It turns out, however, that the situation of the same areas of the economy can differ on the domestic and foreign markets, especially when the difficulties are related to the level of inflation. Based on the news published in our Website, we looked at the April ups and downs of entrepreneurs.
Still uncertain in the clothing industry
In the last month, representatives of other sectors of the economy reported financial problems. In March, the clothing industry attracted attention, which resulted from the announcements of several well-known international clothing chains (including the German Peek&Cloppenburg and the Dutch Scotch&Soda) about the need to close stores located in their home countries. In April, it turned out that their problems are not isolated cases. Another German giant has just joined their group, namely Gerry Weber. Representatives of this chain informed about the implementation of corrective actions aimed at optimizing operations by closing unprofitable stores. It is worth recalling that similar rhetoric was also used by representatives of the sister network mentioned above. There are several other common elements in their behavior. Well, all these chains are characterized by a long presence on international markets, which allowed them to expand their activities and gain popularity. Secondly, they see the origins of the current situation in the mounting problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, aggravated after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, these situations naturally verified the implemented development strategies and the accuracy of the business decisions made. On the one hand, a very extensive network of brick-and-mortar stores turned out to be unprofitable. Pandemic restrictions forced the temporary closure of stationary points, and their re-launch did not bring the expected results. Not all current consumers have expressed a willingness to return to their previous habits. On the other hand, over-investment in the immediate development of e-commerce turned out to be too sudden and too costly in some cases.
The situation of Polish clothing chains is a kind of negation of the problems of these global chains. These, against the backdrop of international giants, look quite good. This is due to the satisfactory sales results and the mutual balancing between the popularity of online and offline shopping. This is what two large Polish clothing groups, namely: Grupa VRG and Grupa LPP, point to. Representatives of the first of them provided optimistic information in April. Last year’s sales figures were the best ever. What’s more, the first months of this year are just as good. The latter group has already reported its good condition and the resulting large-scale development plans. Now it has only confirmed it by boasting about the financial results for the previous year and the beginning of this year. The figures presented by these groups also have a broader confirmation and are reflected in reality. Current data presented by the Central Statistical Office (GUS) seem to confirm the unflagging interest in buying clothes. According to them, entities classified as “textiles, clothing and footwear“1 are sought after and willingly purchased. And it is in this category that the increase in sales is recorded.
For over a year we have been dealing with a difficult economic situation determined by the increase in inflation. This naturally translates into a general increase in the prices of most products. As a result, there is an increase in the cost of living, which leads to placing more importance on purchasing decisions. Thus, people strictly verify their needs and resign from certain products, and in the case of basic necessities, they carefully look at prices, which are increasingly becoming a selection criterion. This is reflected in the monthly reports prepared by the Central Statistical Office (GUS)2, which present the dynamics of retail sales. In most of the analyzed groups, a decrease is observed. This is the case with food, for example. Less than a year ago, Poles openly declared a conscious resignation from purchasing organic food, which is more expensive compared to food without such a label. It is true that currently there are no such firm declarations, but the above-mentioned reports of the Central Statistical Office and the experience of some stores offering the so-called healthy food show that Poles still save on buying this type of food. This is evidenced by the example of the Organic Farma Zdrowia delicatessen and the “Pora na pora” food market. Recently, the delicatessen announced the success of the corrective actions taken, including the closure of some unprofitable stores. With a friend, the “Time for Time” market was forced to close down in April.
For a long time, employers have been outdoing each other in enriching the catalog of non-wage benefits offered to current and potential employees. The possibility of using private medical care and co-financing sports activities or offering a sports card has become a permanent feature of this catalogue. It is these two benefits that employees most often and willingly use. The popular network of Medicover medical centers is well aware of this. Although it is primarily associated with offering employee medical packages, Medicover Sport undertakes intensive efforts to expand its offer with sports activities. And this also justifies the continuation of taking over the network of fitness clubs. In this respect, it competes with Benefit System, which also, in the same way, extends the scope of its operation.
It is worth noting, however, that according to the latest data, the percentage of physically active people is decreasing. On the other hand, sports enthusiasts choose those types of activities that are not excessively expensive. This trend goes hand in hand with the popularity of organized and partly financed sports activities. On the other hand, people who decide to organize sports time on their own most often choose running and cycling. They are met by Intersport Polska. This chain of stores, which has sports and tourist products in its assortment, has developed a development plan for several years. Its implementation will become possible thanks to the finalization of the contract with the Ukrainian investor in April.
In turn, cheap cycling is possible thanks to bicycle systems available in many cities in Poland. While some municipalities resign from offering municipal infrastructure, commercial rentals are still popular. This is done by the popular Nextbike Polska rental company. A few years ago, however, the company began to record losses. According to its representatives, several factors led to this: actions taken by a minority shareholder unfavorable for the company, pandemic restrictions, withdrawal of existing contractors and a decrease in advertising revenues. As a consequence, this led to the initiation of accelerated arrangement proceedings, which ended in failure last month. The restructuring court refused to approve the arrangement, finding irregularities in it. According to media reports, the arrangement was accused of violating the law and harming some creditors. The case raised the issue of converting capital into shares – more on this subject in the commentary at the end of the text.
In the meantime, the company reported an improvement in its financial condition. As proof of this, she declared that the previous season was extremely successful, and the current one promises to be equally promising. However, these reports are overshadowed by the latest information about the unfavorable court judgment settling the several-year conflict with the Tri-City Metropolitan Area for failure to meet the terms of the agreement concluded nearly five years ago.
Ways to deal with financial problems
In April, we monitored the situation of industries that are still struggling with difficulties, but currently they are not as loud as some time ago. So we looked at the following industries: technology, brewing and furniture.
With regard to the former, we have observed that the crisis that the world’s technological giants have been facing for several months is also affecting our domestic companies. And so, companies specializing in software development, STX Next and Netguru, announced the need to reduce the number of employees. Therefore, they undertake corrective actions identical to those undertaken by international holdings in this industry.
The situation in the brewing industry has not improved either. We wrote about the deterioration of its condition, the causes of the current difficult situation and the forecasts in February. At that time, Grupa Żywiec announced its intention to close the local Leżajsk Brewery. In April, however, we returned to the situation of this sector due to ownership transformations that took place in Browar Zamkowy Cieszyn. According to its representatives, the expansion of the number of owners is aimed at developing the Brewery’s operations.
The furniture industry is currently experiencing a significant deterioration of the situation. According to experts, 2023 will be the most difficult year for it, because the debt of this sector of the economy has been steadily increasing for over half a year. In addition, problems with obtaining the necessary raw materials are multiplying, and the demand for furniture has dropped significantly – only this year by as much as 30%. This necessitates a remedial decision. This is in line with the announced plans to lay off employees. According to estimates, they will affect nearly ¼ of the 200,000 employees employed in 2021.
Refusal to approve the arrangement of Nextbike Polska S.A. is undoubtedly one of the most interesting cases of recent weeks. The company decided to satisfy its creditors partly by way of conversion, i.e. the exchange of debt for shares in the share capital. The regulations allow it, but they are very laconic, which causes many doubts. In particular, it is not clear how the unit price of a share (share) should be determined, the acquisition of which – under the arrangement – is classified as debt. According to media reports, the court found an incorrect determination of the share price, which was supposed to favor related creditors.
In addition, the case involved the restructuring of contingent debt. According to the court, the creditor who, according to the company, has only a potential claim was harmed. However, the situation of such a creditor and the impact of the arrangement on his rights is another difficult practical issue.
Both of these threads touch on key issues for the application of the provisions of the restructuring law. The decision of the appellate court will be all the more important. The debtor has announced that he will file an appeal in this case.
April brought other interesting events from which one can conclude about the liquidity situation of entrepreneurs. Although clothing chains have difficulties beyond our western border, this trend is not yet so clear in the country. However, Polish consumers limit their spending on organic food and sports that require significant costs. The emerging niche is filled by employee subscriptions, which are still gaining in popularity. However, there is still no improvement in the digital services, brewing and furniture industries.
The summary was prepared by: Ph.D. Maria Wąsicka-Sroczyńska and Legal Counsel Maciej Woźniak.
1 Central Statistical Office, Dynamics of retail sales in March 2023, https://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/ceny-handel/handel/dynamika-sprzedazy-detaliczna-w-marcu-2023-roku,14,100.html [ access: May 8, 2023].
2 We are talking about monthly reports showing the state of retail sales available on the website of the Central Statistical Office.