Corporate Insolvencies in Australia Surge In May

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Key Takeaways

Corporate insolvency, a critical aspect of economic health, has seen significant changes in Australia recently. The latest insolvency data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) indicates a notable rise in the number of companies entering external administration.  

Recent Trends in Corporate Insolvencies

The recent ASIC report reveals that from July 2023 to March 2024, 7,742 companies entered external administration, marking a 36.2% increase compared to the same period in the previous year. This surge is significant and indicates an escalating trend as businesses deal with the weight of outstanding tax debt and a reduction in consumer spending. The construction and retail sectors, in particular, have been heavily impacted, reflecting broader economic challenges such as rising costs and supply chain disruptions.

Historical Context

Historically, the rates of corporate insolvency in Australia have varied, influenced by economic cycles and policy changes. During the global financial crisis of 2008, insolvency rates spiked as businesses struggled with reduced consumer spending and tighter credit conditions. Conversely, the COVID-19 pandemic initially saw a decline in insolvency rates, largely due to government intervention and temporary relief measures, such as JobKeeper payments, insolvency moratoriums and, perhaps most significant of all, a halt to collections activity by the ATO.

Post-Pandemic Rebound

The lifting of COVID-19 relief measures has led to a rebound in insolvency rates. Many businesses that survived the pandemic due to these temporary measures are now facing financial difficulties as they deal with accrued debts and a challenging economic environment. This post-pandemic adjustment period is contributing significantly to the current increase in insolvencies.

What is the Leading Cause of Insolvency in Australia

The leading cause of insolvency in Australia is insufficient cashflow, with businesses having insufficient resources to keep up with their obligations.  While the ATO is not always the main creditor in winding up  applications to court, the ATO historically is the largest initiator of wind up notices reflecting the number of businesses that have a higher than normal outstanding tax debt.

Factors Contributing to Current Trends

Several factors contribute to the recent increase in corporate insolvencies:

  1. Economic Conditions: Rising inflation and interest rates have increased operating costs and borrowing expenses for businesses. The construction sector, in particular, is struggling with skyrocketing material costs and labor shortages.
  2. Supply Chain Disruptions: Ongoing global supply chain issues continue to affect Australian businesses, leading to delays and increased costs.
  3. Regulatory Changes: The end of temporary relief measures post-pandemic has exposed underlying vulnerabilities in many businesses that were previously cushioned by government support.
  4. Consumer Behavior: Shifts in consumer behavior, such as increased online shopping, have adversely affected traditional retail businesses that failed to adapt.

Comparison to Historical Data

The current rise in insolvencies surpasses the average rates observed in the pre-pandemic years of 2017-2019, reflecting a more challenging business environment now. The financial crisis of 2008 saw a similar spike, but the current increase is more pronounced, suggesting a deeper structural impact on the economy. This trend underscores the importance of resilient business practices and adaptive strategies in an ever-changing economic landscape.

What’s Next

The recent surge in corporate insolvencies in Australia highlights significant economic challenges, the mountain of tax debt that was allowed to accumulate during COVID and a drop in consumer spending reflective of a higher interest rate environment and a per capita recession. It’s likely the impact of COVID lockdowns combined with higher interest rates has significant impacts on insolvency numbers for years to come and causes a significant change to the numbers and types of businesses operating in Australia.

Talk to a cashflow expert.

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