As Dixons and LK Bennett refinance, we talk to Barclays head of retail Richard Lowe about the lending climate for retailers.
Retail Week: Today’s financing deals are the latest of several recently. How do bankers view retail at the moment?
Richard Lowe: Generally speaking retail is not over-leveraged. Four or five years ago there was a lot of leverage but now we’re seeing stability.
While the high street’s been down, from a banking perspective there’s been good online growth and international expansion.
Retail is a big part of UK plc. It’s a £300bn business and the sector as a whole is in a relatively financially healthy position.
A lot of the deals are extensions of existing facilities, although perhaps on more favourable terms. To what extent is there new money available?
We went thought a period of companies deleveraging – they didn’t want to borrow more. Demand slowed.
What’s happening is that in existing facilities, retailers have built up quite high levels of headroom.
Amend and extend sounds like more of the same, but because utilisation is lower it’s giving companies the flexibility to use it for something like overseas expansion or social commerce. I expect greater utilisation of current facilities.
We’re seeing a lot of people upgrading computer systems. It doesn’t make headlines like opening or closing stores but lots of people are putting in good infrastructure.
Term facilities provide some comfort to credit insurers and landlords because they know a business has funding behind it for a period of time.
I think companies are making more announcements about [refinancings]. People are happier that the market knows they’ve got financial backing from the banks.
How can retailers have the most productive conversations with banks about borrowing?
The conversation we’re having is, what is your strategy? It’s about understanding the business – including challenges - and cashflow and putting an appropriate financing package in place.
One thing we’re talking about is a proper multichannel strategy including m-commerce and s-commerce. How is a business integrating? You don’t talk about e-commerce as anything other than the business nowadays, it’s not stove-piped.
We talk to them about their UK store portfolio. Is it the right size? Are they in the right places? What lease length flexibility is there?
We’re starting to see average lease life reported , and that’s about showing the flexibility of the coast base.
So the banks are open for business?
Absolutely. I never wasn’t lending.