It’s finally here. The dreaded March quarter day is never exactly the highlight of the retail year, but this time it’s going to be especially gruelling for many retailers.

The first quarter has gone by alarmingly quickly and hasn’t failed on its promise to deliver disastrously low consumer confidence and weak spend in the shops.

Paying three months' rent in advance on Wednesday is going to force retailers into various categories.

Some – the lucky ones – can relax knowing that the books all balance and paying their landlords won’t be a problem. For others getting together the cash after a difficult Christmas will have been a struggle, but is possible. Still others are facing genuine hardship and are having to renegotiate with their landlords.

The retailers in the last two categories are the ones that will be the most on edge at the moment.

There are retailers who have known that tomorrow’s rent payment was going to be tough for some time and didn’t bury their heads in the sand. Indeed some difficult conversations have taken place in the last weeks between retailers and their landlords about the hardship they are facing getting together the three months' rent.

Whatever arguments landlords care to use against retailers, demanding a quarter of rent from these companies would be nothing short of punitive, given we are facing the worst recession in decades.

Most landlords tell me that they are in discussions along these lines but nowhere near as many as has been suggested.

Which leads onto one of two conclusions. Either fewer retailers are struggling to gather the rent than some feared or that there is a fourth, more dangerous, category of retailer: those who cannot pay and are not being completely open with their landlords.

If this is the case, there could be an awful lot of bad news in the next fortnight with missed payments being chased down and even bailiffs swooping on those unable to cough up.

Journalists are often accused of painting the bleakest possible picture, so I will say that I think and hope that this isn’t a likely outcome in the most part. But given the pressures that have been building up over the last six months and the unwillingness many landlords are still showing to take anything less than three months' rent in advance, something has surely got to give.

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