Regional firms at risk as support unwinds

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There is a risk of increased insolvencies and defaults in the next six to 12 months as businesses come out of lockdown and government support measures are wound back.

Digital credit reporting agency CreditorWatch chief executive Patrick Coghlan has warned an online webinar that businesses have been living in a "synthetic environment".

"At the moment we see a lockdown happen, and logically ... there should be an increase in defaults and insolvencies because business are struggling," Mr Coghlan said.

"But it's not what we have seen over the last 20 months - we see those numbers actually reduced."

Mr Coghlan was promoting CreditorWatch's new business risk index, which will complement its existing business risk review.

The business risk index tracks businesses across 300 regions and numerous industries.

Mr Coghlan believes it will be an invaluable tool in choppy economic conditions as major states reopen from COVID-19 lockdowns.

"Overall the economy is in a state of flux," Mr Coghlan said.

"While this week's reopening of the NSW economy is a positive step forward, it will only be when Victoria exits lockdowns and state and international borders reopen that any sustained recovery can be begin."

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson, who joined the presentation, said it was wrong to think things would change overnight and there would no longer be a need for support measures.

"The idea that you should turn it off completely is misguided," the former federal Liberal minister for small business said.

"There will be a need to recalibrate and there is still the prospect we might ... need some targeted measures into the future."

In its debut release, the business risk index found the probability of default highest among regional businesses in Queensland.

"This is due to trading difficulties in regions such as Coolangatta and the Gold Coast, which rely on borders being open and a regular and ongoing influx of domestic an incoming tourists," Mr Coghlan said.

In contrast, he said it was telling that two of the five regions where the probability of default were lowest were in South Australia, one of the states that had been the least affected by border closures and shutdowns.

The probability of default by industry was unsurprisingly among food and beverage services, a sector that has been forced to close due to lockdowns.

At the other end of the scale, the mining industry has the lowest probability of default.

"While commodity prices such as iron ore are starting to drop, overall high commodity prices have supported this sector," Mr Coghlan said.

When it comes to payment arrears, construction heads the list having been hit hardest by shutdowns in NSW and Victoria, while health care and social assistance industries have the quickest payment turnaround.

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