From Covid to Ukraine: what's the financial state of French VSEs and SMEs?

The Conseil d'analyse économique (CAE), a research center attached to the French Prime Minister's office, has carried out a wide-ranging study to assess the financial situation of French VSEs, SMEs and households after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when a new crisis linked to the invasion of the Ukraine is taking its toll on the French economy.

An overall improvement in the cash position of VSEs and SMEs

To conduct its study, the Conseil d'analyse économique closely examined the business bank accounts of 115,000 VSEs, SMEs and sole traders, as well as a panel of French households, between November 2019 and February 2022. All these bank accounts were domiciled with Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale.

As a result, the cash position of companies " has improved markedly in most business sectors ". In recent months, however, there has been " a slow return to pre-crisis levels ".

Government aid, and in particular the state-guaranteed loan, made a major contribution to this improved cash position in the 2nd quarter of 2020.

In terms of net outstandings, i.e. the sum of bank account balances after deducting outstanding debts, the situation has remained relatively stable. Since the beginning of 2021, SMEs have seen their average net outstandings increase and then stabilize. The same phenomenon was observed for VSEs a little later, from the end of 2021.

Wide disparities between business sectors

However, this general situation should not obscure " a wide variety of situations and trends ". Some sectors are doing better, such as accommodation and catering, while others, notably construction and transport, are experiencing a less positive cash flow trend.

" Even more so than in the case of cash flow, the overall trend in net outstandings conceals greater heterogeneity within companies than before the pandemic ", note Étienne Fize, Hélène Paris and Marion Rault, the authors of the Conseil d'analyse économique study. " We find both more companies in a 'weak' situation and more in a 'good' or even 'very good' situation", they explain.

Here, too, there are significant disparities between business sectors. For example, the number of VSEs and SMEs in a difficult situation in the construction, communication and information sectors has risen sharply, while the number of companies in a "good or very good" situation is higher in the accommodation and catering sector than before the health crisis.

The Conseil d'analyse économique notes that 64% of the VSEs, SMEs and sole proprietorships in the sample have not taken out a government-backed loan between January 2021 and February 2022.

As for households, the surplus savings accumulated since the start of the health crisis have begun to diminish. This is particularly true of the least affluent 20% of households: " they have almost entirely consumed the surplus savings generated during the health crisis ", observe the authors of the CAE study " Quelle situation financière des entreprises et des ménages deux ans après le début de la crise Covid? ".