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Don’t bet your house on it – Why market uncertainty is causing businesses to turn their backs on the risk of traditional office leases

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Philip Sugden

By Philip Sugden, Operations Director at Portal Group UK

While the uncertain impact of volatile market conditions, and of course Brexit, remain to be seen, businesses of all sizes are having to adapt to become more flexible than ever before. Even the most well-established businesses with enough capital to sustain sudden expenses, are reviewing what were previously assured and predictable growth plans.

A business’s property profile is one of the most costly financial investments to be made and over the years the associated fixed rental rates are amongst the standard steps taken in establishing a solid presence for your business.

That cost certainty however, came at a price of the flexibility that is now critical in the modern and reactionary market place.

New businesses are growing at an entirely unpredictable rate while some large established businesses are seeking the autonomy to customize a workspace to better respond to supply and demand. However, with office space at a premium, both large and SME businesses are finding it harder to find a premises that can fill their present and future without breaking the bank.

The possibility that you might need to expand, reduce, reallocate or relocate your workforce at the speed required, particularly for example in the contact centre environment, is extremely costly and entirely impractical under the traditional office lease.

Whether a business is expanding or simply relocating due to success or commercial needs, budgets can no longer be front-loaded into capital expenditure laden construction or leasing of properties.

When considering the growing need to balance financial flexibility with cost certainty in the UK, it’s also interesting to note that our leasing habits differ vastly from the norm abroad. For example, while companies here have traditionally committed to the surety of long 10, 15 or even 20 year leases, the average is closer to three years in the US or India.

While these short-term lets would be at odds with the business growth plans of most UK businesses, more and more businesses of all sizes are increasingly exploring more flexible yet capex-free models.

The likes of managed office solutions (MOS) financial packages, which combine property acquisition, workspace design, fit out, facilities management and supporting services, reflect the emphasis now being placed on financial flexibility and the more expansive use of fluid operating costs (opex).

With simple, streamlined systems and structured terms, business owners can invest their time, effort and money into their businesses, not bricks and mortar.

Simply put, the new wave of shared offices options are allowing start-ups and multinational businesses alike to not only access all the amenities they need at a cost-certain price, but to work within a flexible financial model that fosters their own unique growth and culture.

For more information visit www.portalgroup.uk.com.

Business

An unprecedented Black Friday: How can retailers prepare?

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An unprecedented Black Friday: How can retailers prepare? 1

Retailers must invest heavily in their online presence and fight hard to remain competitive as a second lockdown stirs greater uncertainty

With an unprecedented Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend on the horizon (27th – 30th November), eCommerce hosting and consultancy expert, Sonassi, advises retailers to strengthen their online presence and make the necessary preparations for a fatigue in consumer spending.

James Allen-Lewis, Development Director at Sonassi, explains: “This year’s golden quarter has squeezed together three of the biggest sales periods like never before, meaning retailers will have to fight harder than usual to remain competitive this Black Friday. With greater discounts over a longer period of time, alongside the fact that a second lockdown has moved everyone and everything online, retailers will be battling it out for a share of decreasing consumer spending.

“However, this sense of uncertainty should not deter merchants from implementing their sales strategies this Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. Instead, they must go further than simply providing online discounts and tackle challenges head on by re-focusing their efforts on creating a highly competitive user experience. Successful merchants will make the necessary preparations for a change in consumer demand and invest more heavily in their eCommerce infrastructure.

“One way in which retailers can do this is by using last year’s Black Friday as a case study to inspire their future response. For example, retailers should take note of the key consumer behaviours that transpired throughout last year’s mega peak in discounting and plan accordingly for the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber-Monday weekend.

“Tactics such as providing the ultimate online delivery service and secure payment methods will also be pivotal for retailers looking to survive a fatigue in online spending. Consumers will look to retailers who do not overpromise on items like next-day delivery and ensure their checkout process is safe and frictionless for all. It is the retailers who embrace this fact and meet the needs of the conscious consumer that will win their share of consumers wallets.

Allen-Lewis concludes: “With Black Friday and the build-up to Christmas just around the corner, retailers must adapt to changing consumer demand, invest more heavily in their eCommerce infrastructure and focus their efforts on creating the ultimate online experience. The only way to plan ahead amid challenging times is to listen to the needs of the customer.”

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Optimistic outlook for 2021 public M&A

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Optimistic outlook for 2021 public M&A 2

Optimism is returning and the outlook is positive for the Australian M&A market in 2021 after a COVID-induced crash in deal activity in 2020, according to Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s tenth M&A 2021 Outlook report.

The special report reveals that an environment of historically low interest rates positions M&A as a significant means of achieving growth and generating returns, including for private equity firms looking to deploy capital and strategic buyers focused on complementary acquisitions.

With the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, global political instability and arguably the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression, M&A 2021 Outlook details somewhat surprising trends emerging for the next 12 months and analyses a number of common COVID-19 myths and their influence on future M&A deal making.

Corrs’ detailed examination of the Australian M&A market draws on data taken from the firm’s proprietary database of transactions combined with in-depth research for the 12-month period ending 30 September 2020.

Key trends identified in the report include a rapid escalation in M&A levels and an increase in creativity in pricing and speed in closing deals, while also highlighting the critical need for support from target shareholders. Conditions also appear to be set for a continued rise in equity prices as a result of the ongoing influx of capital into Australian equity markets, making it imperative that bidders employ strategies to move quickly on M&A transactions.

Discussing the M&A 2021 Outlook, Corrs Head of Corporate, Sandy Mak, said “Despite a challenging year, our research indicates that 2021 could well see the volume and value of deals continue to grow. We are already witnessing this uptick in activity and while some industries and sectors are seeing a faster rebound than others, early indications are that the wider public M&A market will continue to strengthen over the coming months.”

Based on its detailed research, the M&A 2021 Outlook report discusses further key findings including:

  • Deal volume and value is the lowest since 2016, however volumes have shown significant recovery since June 2020.
  • More than 50% of deals in 2020 were ‘hostile’ and not recommended at the outset.
  • 71% of deals over A$500 million were structured by way of a takeover – a significant increase from prior years – largely as a result of increased competition for assets through rival bids.
  • Despite border closures and the tightening of foreign investment regimes, the percentage of deals with foreign bidders has increased materially since April 2020.
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Business

5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year

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5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year 3

By Fabio Comminot, Head of Dealing, Switzerland at Ebury, one of Europe’s largest Fintechs, has provided a five-step guide to make sure budgeting is done on time.

During the challenging times of COVID-19, it is difficult to forecast orders and costs. This is especially true for SMEs that operate internationally and therefore are exposed to currency fluctuations and market movements. So budgeting is immensely important.

Autumn is budget season for most companies. Upcoming project costs, sales and fixed costs must be defined or forecasted. Budget planning should be as accurate as possible right from the start of the process to avoid unexpected consequences at the end of the year..

With the effects of the COVID pandemic it has become difficult for all companies, no matter their size or history, to plan and make sales forecasts. Early planning and hedging are especially important for companies that work internationally and are therefore particularly exposed to currency risk.

These five steps will help SMEs take the right measures for the coming financial year, in time for budget season:

Step 1: Estimate your costs or sales in foreign currencies 

As difficult as it may seem, every company must estimate its expected fixed and variable costs for the coming year. Most companies can forecast their revenues based on experience or existing orders.

However, start-ups or young companies should also be able to at least estimate their costs including rents, insurance, wages and production costs. Special attention should be paid to costs or revenues that are spent or received in a foreign currency.

Step 2: Profit or cost assurance – define the strategy

As soon as an approximate plan for the coming year is in place, the company should consider the importance of currency management. Regular earnings or expenditures in foreign currencies are exposed to movements in exchange rates. If costs in a foreign currency are to be forecasted until the end of the year, the company needs to minimise volatility. This means that the exchange rate should be fixed so that there are no unexpected negative consequences at the end of the year.

Another option would be to protect the operating profit. Fluctuating exchange rates can rapidly ruin intended profit margins. In this case the company could aim to define the forecasted sales in the foreign currency and fix the margin based on this.

Step 3: Fix your budget rates 

The budget is set, the currency management goals are defined, the major part is done. Now it is a matter of defining the budgeted rates for the various currencies based on the current exchange rate. A buffer of about 5% can be useful when doing this – for example. instead of fixing the exchange rate from US dollar to Swiss franc at the current 91 cent, a rate of 95 cent could be budgeted. In this way, the minimum budget rate is defined and any negative exchange rate movement can be at least partially compensated for.

Step 4: Define the hedging strategy

With the targets and the budget course set, the next questions are: What currency developments can be expected? What is the industry outlook? Is the order situation relatively secure? Or is there practically no empirical data?

This step is where Ebury can support the company. Our experts in FX markets help answer these questions and begin to define the individual hedging strategy.

Step 5: Ensure a flexible fit

It’s done: the measures have been defined, now it’s time for implementation.

Ebury will implement the previous steps and , so that the company focuses on its core business. In contrast to traditional financial services providers such as banks, Ebury constantly monitors international trade and political events in order to assist clients with strategy adjustments. The Ebury team is supported by state-of-the-art technology and international currency analysts. It makes no difference whether the changes are driven by the currency market or whether the company’s order situation itself is changing. This allows the SME to focus on its operational business, which is worth a lot in uncertain times like these.

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