Survey: Finnish SME’s more resilient than anticipated during the COVID-19 crisis

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The third round of Tesi’s SME survey indicates that the coronavirus pandemic has had a milder impact on Finnish companies than was first anticipated albeit some specific fields have experienced particularly negative effects. Moreover, the annual drag has been more moderate especially in industrial sectors during the first half of the year, which has shielded the subcontracting chains from serious effects. The country’s economy seems to escape the crisis with limited longer-term damage, and its reform has taken the first steps. Also, a quarter of the companies forecast their net sales to grow in Q1 of 2021, compared to the equivalent focal point this year, prior to the crisis.

In November 2020, the state-owned investment company Tesi continued to chart the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Finnish SMEs through a questionnaire survey drawing on wide-ranging cooperation among experts. Altogether 1,683 companies took part in the survey. The November’s round is third in the survey series. The first-round results were published on 8 May 2020, and the second-round results (in Finnish) on 17 June 2020. The aim is to form a broad-based and neutral overview of SMEs’ current situation from a range of perspectives: external factors, internal procedures, and the impact of interventions to support SMEs.

“Although the crisis has hampered and significantly impacted SMEs’ operations, companies across the board have been more resilient during the crisis than forecast. Companies have compensated for reduced net sales by adjusting operating costs and, in the wider perspective, have managed to continue operating profitably in terms of EBITDA. The crisis has had a very polarising effect, though, and since the impacts vary so much from sector to sector it’s difficult to assess the overall situation. It seems the crisis continues to have a disproportionately hard impact on small companies with limited opportunities for adjusting their operations,” says Tesi’s Chief Digital Officer Henri Hakamo.

Read the report here (in Finnish)
Key findings

The negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on net sales have decreased from the April and May levels. ~50% of respondents estimate their net sales decreased in October compared to the previous year, with 13% estimating their net sales have fallen by over 40%. The polarisation of companies into “winners” and “losers” has moderated. Companies are increasingly managing to boost their net sales which started recovering in the autumn. Yet, sectors vary greatly in the extent of their recovery. Of the sectors surveyed, information & communications and construction have weathered the crisis the best.

Altogether 73% of the companies are able to reduce their costs by less than 20% (compared to their normal level), and analyses indicate that most of this potential has already been used. The companies with the most acute cash flow crises are those that have used almost all their adjustment potential. Layoffs are by far the most common adjustment means, nevertheless forecast to become fewer for the end of the year.

The proportion of unprofitable companies has declined steadily during the crisis, which implies that adjustments are having an effect, albeit with a delay. Some 7% of the companies interviewed said that the pandemic had flipped their EBITDA from positive to negative, compared to 17% in the June survey.

Companies’ levels of satisfaction with support interventions by and the number of companies that have received support from Business Finland and Finnvera have both risen since the spring, although varying across business sectors. Also, the willingness of external finance providers, such as banks, to provide finance to companies in our sample has risen slightly compared to earlier surveys.

Investment prospects have considerably improved, compared to the results of the previous survey. However, the impacts of the pandemic are still expected to be considerable which is why the industry sectors’ changed prospects have a positive effect.

The operational disruption caused by the pandemic has continued but has lessened slightly since the previous survey. Most disruption has occurred in industry sectors and retail. The most common disruptions are in the availability and logistics of raw materials.

Roughly 3% of SMEs (not sector-weighted) are facing bankruptcy as legislated extensions to insolvency periods expire in January, whereas in the hospitality & catering sector this figure is already 9%. Bankruptcies are most prevalent amongst companies in the hospitality & catering sector. There is still pressure for continuing an extensive programme to support companies, and the survey indicates that expiry of insolvency extensions could result in a wave of bankruptcies.

About the survey

The questionnaire survey commissioned by Tesi was prepared and compiled originally by Helsinki GSE, Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, Professor Vihriälä’s work group, Business Finland, Finnvera, and other experts from both the public and the private sectors. The survey was conducted by telephone by Taloustutkimus between 3rd and 30th November 2020 (sample size n=1683). The aim is to provide a real-time and sector-specific overview of Finland’s economy, thus making up-to-date information available to policymakers to target correctly-timed measures for mitigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey encompassed sectors important to Finland’s economy and economic growth that are expected to suffer the most negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. These include: industrial sector; wholesale & retail trade; professional, scientific and technical activities; information & communications; hospitality & catering, construction; transport and warehousing, and administrative & auxiliary activities.

The interactive graphics of the questionnaire survey are freely available online and the relevant data can be downloaded. Please visit (in Finnish): https://survey.taloustutkimus.fi/dashboard/covid_pk_yritykset_avoin/

 

For more information:
Henri Hakamo, Chief Digital Officer, Tesi.
henri.hakamo@tesi.fi, +358 40 050 2721

 

Tesi (Finnish Industry Investment Ltd) is a Finnish state-owned investment company that wants to raise Finland to the front ranks of renewing economic growth by investing in funds and directly in companies. We invest profitably and responsibly, hand-in-hand with co-investors, to create the world’s new success stories. Our investments under management total 1.6 billion euros. Ambition for ownership and success tesi.fi | @TesiFII