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2009... What lies ahead?

2009... What lies ahead? article image

As we commence another year, the international landscape has changed in many ways from a year earlier, when global growth, fuelled by the large economies of China and India, seemed likely to keep Australia on an upward economic trajectory for a number of years into the future. Who would have thought back then that bad mortgage lending practices in one country could result in such global turmoil?  It certainly demonstrates the global interconnectedness of business. So what will 2009 bring?  I’m not about to try and predict what will occur. It does seem however that certain sectors of our exporting economy will stand up better than others. The Australian Institute of Export conducted a short survey in December to gauge the impact of the changing financial landscape on Australian exporters. Some 44 percent indicated it was more difficult to obtain finance for exports compared to the previous quarter, and 60 percent advised that was also more difficult to obtain payment in advance. This leads to prudent businesses looking to offset the risk through documentary letters of credit or export credit insurance. However, here also things were getting tighter with 30 percent finding it more difficult to obtain protection through letters of credit and 36 percent finding it more difficult to access credit insurance cover. There were, however, some businesses whose exports had not missed a beat, and they were very bullish about business conditions. However some 68 percent of respondents foresaw a more difficult financing scenario for 2009. Will they be proved correct?  Only time will tell. The important thing though is to recognise that there may well be more business defaults before we turn the corner, and exporters should be thinking about strategies that either avoid the risk of non-payment (cash up front, letter of credit or credit insurance), or that limit open account exposure (partial payments, reduce receivables through shorter terms or smaller limits, or have the ability to retrieve unpaid orders).  This requires a close monitoring of both the buyer’s business, and the demand for the product or service in the buyer’s market. Certainly out of adversity comes opportunity, and exporters may find new niches opening up, where they have a product or service right for these economic times. For smaller businesses it is difficult to monitor early warning signs in distant markets.  This is where organisations such as Austrade are invaluable in gaining market intelligence through their offices around the globe, all focused on supporting Australian exports. Likewise the credit insurance companies will be among the first to be aware of debtor defaults. A good practical first step is to have a friendly chat to your bank, to ensure that they will continue to provide facilities to support your business in 2009.  They may also have suggestions on how you could protect your export sales in the year ahead. As is often noted, the only certainty in life (apart from death and taxes), is change. Being prepared for change, and perhaps using change to advance your business, is a sensible approach for businesses looking to growth. For example, businesses should stick with established markets, so that when good times return they are remembered for hanging in there. However costs can be high. An Australian company (Servcorp) that offers serviced offices in key business locations around the globe would seem to be a likely beneficiary of changing circumstances. So going into 2009, alert but not alarmed, and ready to adjust to changing situations in each key market would seem to be a good way to start the year. Feedback from any businesses who are coping positively with the new global landscape, or those that are feeling the impacts on their key markets, would be very welcome.

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