Q3 of 2013 saw the first signs of a recovery in the UK, and with it a debate about the existence and prospects of so-called ‘zombie’ companies.
Believers claimed there were between 150,000 to 430,000 such companies in the UK as of mid-2013 – unable to create value and grow, yet somehow surviving thanks to banks’ forbearance and low interest rates. Doubters pointed to a massive shake-out of the UK’s weakest and most over-indebted businesses over the last few years, including a raft of ‘hidden’ insolvencies that were not reflected in national statistics. They warned against mistaking the ‘simply ill’ for the ‘living dead’.
As a more solid recovery emerged, some claimed the zombie menace had never truly existed, others that it was now a thing of the past – while others still warned of a string of tedious sequels. Or perhaps it was the practice of insolvency and resolution itself that was changing.
To help separate fact from fiction, ACCA invited a group economists, bankers, representatives of credit rating agencies and turnaround professionals to a debate that we felt was long-overdue. The debate, which took place in London in the evening of 19 November 2013, explored the definitions, the demographics, the economics and the turnaround prospects of the UK’s supposed ‘zombie’ companies, but also the unseen side of the recovery: the health of UK banks, the skills of entrepreneurs, managers and advisers, and the ability of the UK economy to allocate resources.