Late payments in Italy between legislative rules and credit needs

Late payments in Italy between legislative rules and credit needs

October 10, 2018

Roberta Scannavini

The aligment of Italian companies with the EU Late Payment Directive continues to clash with the practice of very delayed payment but also with the evidence of small and micro firms “forcing” credit from suppliers to easily satisfy their financial needs

 

In a context of very heterogeneous payment behaviour across member States, the Directive 2011/7/EU provided guidelines to harmonize payment periods at European level and to protect weaker creditors, especially SMEs, from payment delays, in particular imposed by larger companies or by the public administration (PA).

Each of the 28 EU countries has adopted the directive in its legislation, following more or less severe criteria. Italy issued the Legislative Decree 192/2012, now in force since January 2013. In broad terms, the decree is rather binding for the supply of goods and services to the PA, which must pay in 30 days (that can be extended to 60 only in special cases), while it looks less binding for B2B transactions, as companies can explicitly negotiate payment terms over standard 60 days, if they are not seriously detrimental to one of the parties.

In the first four years of application of the new legislation (2013-2016) the balance sheets of Italian companies [1] show at least resistance to change. In fact, for all non financial companies the collection period from costumers [2] has been reduced from 88 average days in 2012 to 84 in 2016, a decline of only 4 days in 4 years! 

 
Chart 1 – Manufacturing sector: average collecting period from customers by turnover class (in days)

Tempi di pagamento in Italia: fra ‘consigli’ normativi e bisogno di credito
Source: Calculations are based on Prometeia’s ASI database and Bureau van Dijk’s AIDA database.
 

Among sectors, the Construction industry is still reporting a series of negative records: higher collection periods compared to all other sectors (150-200 days), payment periods to suppliers close to or above 1 year also by larger companies, no downward adjustment is underway. 

For Manufacturing companies, more exposed to international competition, we can find some changes: between 2012 and 2016, the average collection periods decreased from 93 to 81 days, 12 less in 4 years of legislation. 

But differences across size classes [3], rather than declining according to the Directive target, have strengthened (chart 1). For large and medium size companies revenues became faster (with a decrease of 17 and 13 days respectively), also thanks to the increase in exports of these firms, which raised their commercial exposure on markets with less payment duration, in particular Germany. Even after these declines, only large firms could collect on average within 60 days. For small and micro manufacturing companies, however, loans continue to be collected at almost 4 months and at over 5 months, showing a negligible downward adjustment (3 days) only in the first case. 

 
Chart 2 – Manufacturing sector: average payment period to suppliers by turnover class (in days)
Tempi di pagamento in Italia: fra ‘consigli’ normativi e bisogno di credito
Source: Calculations are based on Prometeia’s ASI database and Bureau van Dijk’s AIDA database.
 

In the payment to suppliers Manufacturing companies are even more disaligned with the Directive (chart 2). Only large firms accelerated the payment of commercial liabilities (15 days less than in 2012), while continuing to pay over 3 months. 

Most worrying are the late payments by small and micro companies. In both cases - although starting from already delayed payments, about 135 days for small firms, and 200 for micro firms– in 2016 the average payment duration further increased, by 6 days in the first case, and even by a month in the second one. Similar trends by sign and intensity can be observed among smaller companies also in the other sectors, suggesting an evidence more linked to firms size than to firms sector. 

Many factors can explain the Italian resistance to decrease the payment periods [4]. The extension of late payments to suppliers relative to most recent years and to smaller companies, on the other hand, contrasts with expectations and so far has been neglected.

It can be explained as an answer to the credit rationing that the smallest firms have been reporting for some years: more severe criteria in the risk assessment by the banks penalized the small and less structured companies, forcing these firms to increase the financial support by suppliers to compensate the difficult access to loans. In consideration of the persisting credit rationing issues for SMEs, it could be interesting to analyse if 2017 balance sheets, available in next autumn, will confirm the outlined trends. 

 
[1] The analysis is based on a sample of balance sheets relative to more than 830 thousand non-financial companies. Calculations are based on Prometeia’s ASI database and Bureau van Dijk’s AIDA database.
[2] The collection and payment periods obtained from the balance sheets include both the payment terms established by contract and the delays in payments.
[3] Sample companies are ranked by size according to the 2016 turnover: micro-enterprises up to 2 million euros, small companies 2-10 million, medium-size companies 10-50 million, large companies over 50 million. 
[4] Among factors expaining late payments in Italy we can mention: the easy derogation of the rule, the well-established practice of deferring payments as a competitive factor, the imbalance of contractual force among the contracting parties, where the weaker one accept very delayed payments to maintain the supply relationship.
 
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