Retailers among rising number of insolvency cases

Insolvency practitioners and the "intensive care" departments of some of the large high street banks are reporting an increase in the number of companies coming on to their books, even as the economy experiences a 1980s-style consumer boom.

The Society of Insolvency Practitioners says activity has increased in the past six months, with hi-tech companies and retailers the most prevalent, along with small and medium-sized public quoted companies which have become stretched trying to fulfil market expectations.

Murdoch McKillop, a corporate recovery partner at Arthur Anderson and vice president of the Society of Insolvency Practitioners, says: "Our members are seeing evidence of an upturn in the last six months. But people should not be surprised about that. It is just part of the economic cycle."

Barclays Bank has reported a "modest increase" in the number of companies being placed in its rescue and recovery units in the past few months. It says it has seen a number of retail groups experiencing difficulties due to competition on the high street and their inability to pass on price rises. Many hi-tech firms have been overwhelmed by the rapid pace of technological change and poor management.

Ivan Armstrong, lending services director with responsibility for corporate support and recoveries, says: "The numbers on our books are less than a year ago, but higher than they were three months ago." He said the numbers had increased by 5 to 10 per cent since the spring.

Other lenders such as Lloyds TSB and NatWest said they had not seen any rise, as did Midland, though industry experts said they felt Midland may have experienced some increase.

Mr McKillop said the rise of sterling had affected some manufacturing businesses with a significant export operation. He added that following the recent surge in the level of takeovers, buy-outs and flotations, it was inevitable some increase in failures would follow.

Figures show the number of administrative receivership appointments are down to their lowest point since 1989.

Separately, a survey published today by KPMG corporate recovery shows that senior directors believe poor management and under-capitalisation are responsible for the majority of company failures.

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