10/2020 – Lives versus livelihoods in the face of pandemic

Lives versus livelihoods. We hear the same arguments everyday.

On one extreme end, lockdown everyone until after we have 14 continuous days of zero new-infections in the world. This could take months, the economic costs will be so devastating and we will have nations of home prisoners going mentally berserk.

On the other extreme, open up the economy on May 1 and open up air travel, infect and cross infect, build immunity through herd mentality and soon the living will not have to worry about being infected again. Never mind the few million deaths of the vulnerable old and diseased people.

Meanwhile, the sharp fall in the health of the economy will also affect the global population as the weak companies will fall out first, followed by mass unemployment, economy turning from a recession into a depression, more unemployment, failure of financial institutions and finally countries across the globe will become broke and the people living in abject poverty.

At both ends, cost of lives will be so exorbitant whether in death or destroying so many livelihoods beyond our comprehension. The only solution is a vaccine. The only problem is that it will take another 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to be found.

Can we find a solution, a middle ground to this madness of weighing lives versus livelihoods?

China has shown us how to control the virus. None of the other 213 countries in the world has adopted the China approach. As the rest of the world is still trying to flatten the curve, China’s next big fight is to control imported infections. So China closes its borders and wait for the rest of the world to heal and report zero infections. That will take many many months as the rest of the world will open up their lockdown policies and resume economic activities. Re-infection will happen and the rest of the world will stutter, do many smaller lockdowns whenever new clusters are found until a vaccine is found.

So in the next 12 to 18 months, we will find a new way to live, the new normal for the global population to adapt to. How will it affect our lives?

Post MCO – pre vaccine

Laws will be enacted to ensure that a face mask is worn every time anybody goes out of the house. Hand sanitisers will be carried around together with your wallets and moisturising hand cream will be used daily to reduce your itchy skins on your hand due to excessive washing and the alcoholic drying effects.

Social distancing will alienate families and friends and many open businesses will have to operate with half capacity. People all over the world will have to line up patiently like the Japanese for the simplest task of buying grocery or waiting for a vacant table in a halved capacity restaurant.

The whole world becomes paranoid. People will avoid travelling to places of high infections whereas government will close its borders from fear of imported infections. People will avoid mass public places, vulnerable people will stay more at home.

Spending money will be diverted from non-essentials to basic essentials and personal safety. Higher personal hygiene standards will become the new habit. Homes and places of work will smell like hospitals due to daily sanitisation of everything. “Stay safe” will be the most used closing line in our messages to our family members, friends and colleagues.

More families will be displaced due to business failures and unemployment. Social problems and criminal activities will rise due to poverty and helplessness. Personal, business and government debt will increase tremendously as many businesses collapse in a deflated economy.

The extent of the problems mentioned can be mitigated if we remain calm, and the government is able to coordinate its strategies together with local economic partners. A successful collaboration between all parties is absolutely vital if this country wants to get out of this pandemic meltdown with the least damage as compared to other countries.

The Malaysian government has proven that they are proactive in managing the pandemic by implementing MCO early and now gradually easing towards a resumption of economic activities. Just like previous policies, the intent and ideas are good but as always, implementation leaves much to be desired. The need to control is not matched by its capabilities to manage.

The Health Ministry knows where the hot spots are. Similarly, they know where the green spots are. Their contact-tracing of the tabligh outbreak, even though painstakingly slow, have started yielding results. New clusters from tabligh-related infections have been identified in tahfiz schools and the ministry has moved in to contain the situation. The blind spot will come from the migrant workers who have not been tested just as Singapore has discovered recently.

If the tahfiz schools and migrant worker issues are not resolved by end April, there is a likelihood that the MCO might be extended till after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which is towards end May. The risk of two million Muslims travelling back to their hometowns will render these six weeks of MCO ineffective and wasted.

What we need is more testing and at a higher capacity than the planned 16,500 tests per day. The new South Korean rapid test kits have been approved and hopefully with a lower cost. Early detection is the key as proven in many other successful countries.

Gradual resumption of economic activities can be managed effectively if employers work with the Health Ministry on agreed strict guidelines. As it is, the guidelines are the same as in the practice of social distancing at the work place, personal hygiene and prevention of transmission.

The ministry should work on the bulk purchase of rapid test kits and offer these services to all workplaces to test their workers at an affordable cost. I would gladly pay RM150 per test per worker just to have peace of mind for all parties. This tests will be our first line of defence at the workplace.

Workplaces that want to resume their operations will have to incur additional expenses on safety measures for workers. All staff members should be provided with face masks and hand sanitisers as the protection should cover travelling to and from work, inside the workplace, and educating the workers to observe high personal hygiene at home and at work. The cost of one positive case discovered at the workplace will be even more expensive due to sanitisation cost, loss of work hours and re-testing of all the staff.

All workers should be temperature tested at the entrance and asked if they are feeling unwell. Every precaution should be taken at the workplace. My friend who just restarted his factory operations has gone to the extent of paying for delivered lunch for his workers and reconfiguring the canteen seating to practice social distancing. Where it is not possible to have the metre-length space in between two workers, he has provided transparent polycarbonate full face mask as additional protection.

As the majority of the population is Covid-19 free due to the six weeks of MCO, the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) can resume economic activities in various industries with strict guidelines for the employers to follow. The Health Ministry should continue to ban mass gatherings and mass movements until the coast is clear. That should be non-negotiable.

Lives versus livelihoods decisions should be based on a calm and calculated strategy with cooperation from all segments of the population. The ideal balance of the equation would be a minimum loss of lives and livelihoods so this nation will suffer less in this pandemic – economic misfortune.

Cliche as it may sound, we are all in this together. So let’s work towards a gradual recovery of our lives and economy.

BFM Webinar: Race to Recovery

Thiam Hock made an appearance today on BFM Radio’s live webinar: Race to Recovery.

Thiam Hock joins Dato Munirah Looi (Brandt International) and Joshua Liew (EspressoLab Asia) to discuss how COVID-19 has changed the way business operate and what businesses need to do to survive.

Click here to watch on Facebook.

To jump straight to Thiam Hock’s comments, follow the time stamps below:
(16:30 refers to 16 minutes and 30 seconds in the video)

16:30 – The SME road to recovery starts next year, not this year. You will be losing money this year, that is a given. How do SMEs preserve cash flow for the next 6 months?

19:30 – Thoughts on EPF deferment / exemption & wage subsidies.

Wage subsidies help, but it’s only for 3 months, and SME’s need to survive for 6 months.

29:05 – Brick & mortar businesses, vs. online businesses.

33:15 – What measures can companies take to reduce monthly operating costs? Look at your forecasts, be sure to look at minimum 30-60% fall in revenue for the year. Talk to you landlord – can they extend 20-30% discount during the MCO?

36:30 – Advertising and promotional budgets. Businesses should be spending on anything that can help sales in this period – and media companies will be giving great deals now.

38:50 – Wages. Can we convert wages to be more of a variable cost?

43:00 – Mergers. Does it make sense to acquire a weak competitor? Does it make sense for weak companies to merge?

51:00 – Private equity and venture capital. PE and VC firms will be like vultures in 4-6 months time – and business owners will no longer be able to command high valuations.

In the next 2-3 years, the “valuation game” won’t happen. (…) It’s gonna be very, very much subdued, the valuation game.

1:01:40 – Senior staff and bonuses. What do you do for staff who insist to be paid fully during this MCO?

We are facing a situation where you cannot afford to to absorb losses for six straight months. (…) It’s a time of reckoning.

1:03:30 – What is the outlook for the wellness industry?

1:08:20 – What do businesses do if the MCO is extended? Some form of economic activity has to resume. A call for religious leaders to make responsible decisions, and for business to take health and safety measures seriously when business resumes.

It’s really a question of Lives vs. Livelihoods. And whether the cure is going to cost more than the problem itself.

9/2020 – Cashflow and monthly operating costs are key

After watching Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s announcement on the enhanced stimulus package for SMEs, my various chat groups came alive with all kinds of comments and opinions. In particular, one chat group which comprises experienced retired senior bankers, entrepreneurs and senior business journalists (all about the same age of 60 and above) stood out for its wisdom and sharp foresight.

When asked about potential SME casualties in this economic crisis, a senior banker commented, “TH… I went through four deep recessions/business cycles, ie, 1987,1997,2007/8, and now 2019/20. Same like you, and no wiser than my friends in this group.

“My gut feeling is that there will be more casualties this time around because the pandemic is world-wide. But like all recessions, the economy will turn around. It will not likely be a V-shaped recovery. We all have to tighten our belts, cut losses, and make sure we survive to enjoy the recovery.”

He is correct, as this recession is like no other. It is the first time that almost all economic activities have stopped in all the major countries in the world at the same time. There is a supply shock as the supply chain has been completely disrupted to a standstill.

There is demand shock as sales of most industries have fallen off the cliff to almost zero during lockdowns, and there is capital market shock as global stock markets crash.

Predicting the timing of the recovery is extremely difficult as we now have to deal with a virus pandemic with no solution in sight. Yes, a complete lockdown can flatten the curve but the risk of a re-occurrence of a new wave of infections is very high when the movement control order (MCO) is lifted. Economic activities have to resume, so we will have to practise some form of restricted MCO for the next six months.

And this affects business.

Sales will continue to be very soft as consumption drops due to lower consumer confidence, higher unemployment and reduced personal income, as widespread paycuts are implemented. As in most recessions, not all businesses will do badly. From experience, consumers tend to trade down, ie, purchase lower-priced alternatives to sustain their lifestyle. Hawker stalls will continue to do well, while higher-priced restaurants will suffer.

The logical conclusion for SME owners is to focus on surviving the next six months. Once the moratorium on your loans ends in October, will you still be standing with the ability to start repaying them? Will you have sufficient cash flow to participate in the economic recovery which will probably start in 2021?

Your survival strategy till October will have to focus on two key issues – cash flow and monthly operating costs.

Managing cash flow > Sufficient banking facilities – Since all your loans have been placed under a moratorium (meaning that you won’t need to repay them for the next six months) by your bank, you will need to check if the balance amount of banking facilities will allow you to trade normally.

If not, quickly apply to your bank for additional trading facilities. If you have spare cash, it might be wise to start paying down your loan when you can and not wait till the end of October.

  • Cash reserves – You will need to cover March and April losses from your cash reserves. Reduce your losses for the next five months through aggressive cost-cutting. Most businesses will face delayed collections so cash reserves, if available, will be most useful to cover cash-flow deficits.
  • Wage subsidy – Expect delays in your claims as the government will not be able to cope with the massive influx of applications. If approved, expect delayed payments of at least a month in your cash-flow planning. The wage subsidy is only for three months but you need to survive the next six months. So, plan accordingly.
  • Corporate tax – For companies that will definitely declare a loss in 2020, my advice is to write in to the Inland Revenue Board informing them that you will declare zero profits for the financial year-end 2020, and suspend all tax payments for future projected profits. There is no point loaning the money back to the government when you need it more to survive.
  • Deferred EPF payments – Just like bank loans, EPF payments have been deferred for six months when you will have to restructure your payments with the agreement of the EPF. Do not consider this as savings. It goes into accounts payable, interest-free of course.
  • Rental subsidy – The announced tax deduction for rental rebates of 30% for three months from April to June will be effective in encouraging private-sector landlords to implement only if double deduction is allowed. In times of need, business partners should help one another. This is how the Chinese business community has been built over the last 100 years in Malaysia.
  • Moratorium – This is probably the best Bank Negara strategy to help preserve cash-flow liquidity for businesses to continue trading. By allowing the banking system to prevent classifying non-payments after three months as non-performing loans (NPLs), businesses can breathe and continue trading for another six months. Individuals too have more cash in hand to offset the paycuts that will definitely happen. By end-October, Bank Negara must allow another restructuring of existing loans by another six months to businesses who will benefit from the economic recovery.

Reduce monthly operating expenses. The survival of your company depends on the amount of cash reserves you have to fund losses in March and April and also losses to be incurred from May to October. So, it is imperative that losses are kept to a minimum in the next five months.

Losses are calculated after deducting expenses from net sales. Net sales is gross sales less cost of sales. So, if net sales are down, expenses must come down proportionately, which in this case might not be possible for companies which suffer a big drop in sales.

While your sales revenue is dependent on external factors which are beyond your control, to a major extent, you are in control of your own expenses. For most service companies, payroll forms the biggest portion of the monthly expense. This is normally followed by rental or in some companies, advertising and promotion.

  • Rental – At the maximum, expect your landlord to give you a rebate of 30% from April to June. This means that you can factor into your expenses a reduction of 15% in rental payments for the next six months.
  • Advertising and promotion – It has been proven in the last recession that companies that continue advertising and conducting promotional activities will sell more than their competitors who stop completely. You are advised to work with your media suppliers to get more bang for the same budget. I am sure the media companies will support you, as they too need sales and have excess inventory to give away.
  • Office expenses, allowances and claims – Cut all the unnecessary frills that you can ill-afford. Not much but every penny counts. Spend some on healthcare, though, to look after the team.
  • Wages – I have stopped comparing with the Singapore government’s wage subsidy plan because our government does not have sufficient reserves.

With the latest proposed enhanced wage subsidy, it looks like SME owners must take matters into their own hands. Some companies will enjoy reasonable support of up to 30% subsidy on the wage expense, while some will only enjoy 5% to 10%.

Do remember that this is only for three months. Why the government is not exempting EPF payments for six months is beyond my understanding. This will only translate to a higher paycut across the board.

I have an investee company where the senior management has given the board of directors a revised sales forecast, with sales revenue dropping by 20% against the 2020 budget. But no corresponding reduction in expenses was given.

I have replied that this sales forecast might not be achievable and that we should start looking at reducing our expenses, mainly the payroll, which is a massive portion of it.

I would recommend a minimum 20% paycut across the board, freezing all intakes, probably retrenching a few positions deemed not necessary and linking the paycut to sales. If the sales for May to October drop by more than 50%, then the paycut will be more severe like 30%-40% for those who earn above RM4,000. However, if sales recover to its original budget then the salary will revert to its original amount.

Different companies will have to tailor different strategies, depending on the sales performance of the company up to October. For companies where payroll forms the bulk of expenses, detailed human resource requirements must be considered.

Where possible, the fixed salary cost should be changed to a variable cost, as a percentage of sales. This will help minimise losses to a great degree and at the same time save jobs and keep your key employees employed.

Some form of right-sizing is required now. Where possible, eliminate jobs to reduce 10% of your current payroll. Then undertake a paycut of 20% to make total savings of 30%. Then, submit for wage subsidies to the government if your company qualifies, which will probably save you another 5% to 10% of your existing payroll. With immediate savings of 35% to 40% from payroll deduction, you can take your chances with the remaining five months, of which April is already a complete loss for you.

Then my entrepreneur friend asked, “What if the employee does not accept a paycut?”. My answer: “Nobody can stop this employee from leaving the company on his own free will.”

At this moment of truth, SME owners’ only objective is to save the company from going bust. Minimise the losses so that you can stretch your reserves till October.

At the next moment of truth in October, SME owners will have to decide whether to continue or close their business. Don’t forget that you still have deferred EPF payments and the loans with interest to pay off. You can avoid bankruptcy if your business is still alive in October 2020.

From one battle-scarred entrepreneur to all the young entrepreneurs and SME owners out there: “Stay alive today to fight the next battle tomorrow. And you will win again.”

8/2020 – Resumption of economic activity: Clear guidelines needed

We have just gotten news that the government is forming a special Cabinet committee to bolster its stimulus package and strike a balance between economic priorities and effective enforcement of the movement control order (MCO) due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Firstly, there is not much to the economic stimulus package. It should perhaps be renamed as a survival package. How the SMEs are going to get through this extremely difficult time and how the people are going to judge the performance of this government in the next general election remains to be seen.

The government has made the right decision in allowing the director-general of the Health Ministry to manage the pandemic without interference from the politicians. In times of crisis, the nation needs a calm and level-headed leader to come forth and save the situation.

Our ministers should refrain from putting their foot in their mouth because this pandemic has reset the ‘new’ normal. In this crisis, there is no place for a lack of intellectual capacity, populist policies (that might counter the MCO’s efforts) or cheap publicity stunts.

On a side note, though, I thought the “Doraemon” advice was a good distraction for a nation under quarantine. It did bring a smile to our faces.

This special Cabinet committee must include the private sector from the supply chain side and set out clear guidelines for the resumption of economic activity – both during the MCO (essential services) and post-MCO periods.

As a guideline, it would do us well to refer to Singapore, South Korea and Japan to pick out their best practices. It is never too late to learn from other people’s experience.

Here, I would like to highlight a couple of real stories that have played out in the first two weeks of the MCO.

First on the list is the supply chain disruption for essential services. When the MCO was announced, the list of essential services that was allowed to operate was also announced. Many factories had to apply to the International Trade and Industry Ministry or Miti for permission to operate. It was announced that they had to submit their forms with the condition that they reduced their workforce by half in view of the safety directive from the Health Ministry.

Many factories did not get approval from Miti in the first week, so they stayed closed. In the meantime, the Human Resource Minister came up with the statement that all salaries must be paid during the MCO period.

Many workers took advantage of this statement, packed their bags and left for their hometowns. Now that the MCO has been extended for another two weeks, employers are facing a big problem in asking them to return to work. Can employers not pay the workers because they refuse to work then?

A factory producing the much-needed hand sanitisers had supply chain problems because its suppliers of alcohol, bottles and cartons were not allowed to operate in the first week. Some started operating in the second week, but the carton factory couldn’t start because the workers refused to come back to work. The alcohol factory simply refused to start operations for whatever reason. Production has since slowed down to half the normal capacity as the supply chain has been disrupted.

The same factory had another problem as it had received a big purchase order of hand sanitisers in February from overseas. It was already producing and shipping the goods in March when the government came up with the directive to ban the export of essential products. It checked with Customs on whether it could ship its products out but was informed that approval was necessary from Miti. However, nobody could be contacted on this.

Then, due to the congestion of containers stuck at the ports (for whatever reason), the Transport Minister got involved. Importers were crying foul that their import shipments of much-needed face masks and other essentials had not been cleared by the port authorities.

The Transport Minister also announced that export orders should be fulfilled by Malaysian factories after the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers or FMM sent out an SOS.

However, the latest news from FMM is that this is not happening due to stringent action undertaken by the relevant enforcement agencies. It must be the Customs department and port authorities seeking Miti’s approval. So, who is in charge of approving the export of essential products here?

To add to the chaotic situation, local “essential” manufacturers that require local logistics companies to transport their goods must get approval from the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry. Miti must have been swamped with too many requests and as such, refused to accept any new applications to operate during the MCO after March 24. What if the MCO is extended for another two weeks till April 28? This would be a mind-boggling problem, wouldn’t it?

To date, according to our Health Ministry director-general, our pandemic curve is flattening, which is a good sign that social distancing does indeed work. We are hoping that the MCO till April 14 would be sufficient to flatten the curve of the second wave. If necessary, the MCO might be extended till April 28.

That would be fine with most people, as long as normal economic activity is partially resumed and the supply chain – especially for the production, transportation and sale of essential products – is up and running.

It is the post-MCO period that this Cabinet committee must think through thoroughly. It would be wise to get the advice of supply chain experts and coordinate thoroughly with all the ministries. However, as the health of the people takes priority, the Health Ministry’s directives would take precedence over all other ministries. The second-most important thing would be the seamless resumption of economic activity with strict safety practices in place.

This Cabinet committee could learn a thing or two from its Singaporean counterparts on this. First, practising social distancing in public places and at work is a must. Restaurants must reduce customer capacity by half and advocate a space of one metre between them. Offices ought to have flexible lunch hours from 11.30am to 2.30pm, which would mean sending out staff in three batches. This would also complement the seating capacity of restaurants.

All religious gatherings should be banned until the threat of the third wave is negligible as decided by the Health Ministry. As a matter of fact, any gathering of 10 people or more should be strictly prohibited. If we can get through June without any sign of the third wave, then we will be in good shape.

We should continue with strict personal hygiene practices both at home and at work. This would be to avoid another virus pandemic in the future.

Next, all economic activity should be resumed. The supply and demand equation will sort out the sharp fall in consumption. Let the SMEs adjust to the new challenges.

Most of all, the government must ensure the safety of its citizens during this pandemic and economic disaster, and assist the real economic producers by providing a seamless supply chain solution thereafter. As we were operating just fine before the pandemic, let things go back to the way they were before. The more the various ministries jump in to regulate, the messier it would be.

And for the time being, just let the health director-general speak. He seems to be doing just fine.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2020/04/03/resumption-of-economic-activity-clear-guidelines-needed

7/2020 – Keep calm, help is on the way

My friend, who is the chief risk officer of a major international bank in Singapore texted this message in our chat group: “Dear bros, preparing for a global recession.

That’s best case scenario assuming pandemic contained by summer. Governments world over doing whatever it takes to preserve productive capacity for resumption of normal economic activities.”

Singapore has called on its reserves to spend 10% of its GDP like most European countries and now the United States to preserve productive capacity which means keeping workers employed, supporting livelihoods and stabilising businesses.

I have just texted: “Friend – not all governments preserve productive capacity. Certainly not Malaysia after the announcement of the economic stimulus programme by our PM.”

You can imagine my disappointment after listening to our PM last Friday. In my honest opinion, it felt like a stimulus programme designed by politicians rather than economists. Formulated by a back-door government trying to please its voter base and asking for acceptance.

Let us analyse the Resilience Budget by the Singapore government.

Their Job Support Scheme pays 25% of monthly wages for every local worker in employment capped at S$4,600 a month for nine months until December 2020. Enhanced Jobs Support scheme for food and beverages firms at 50% of monthly wages with the same cap of S$4,600. For aviation, hotels, travel agencies, tourist attractions, and MICE venue operators – a whopping 75% monthly wage offsets with same cap for nine whole months!

All firms qualify for the wage rebates if they do not retrench and they must pay full salaries and CPF. Employers can now forecast their annual 2020 profit and loss account based on an expected decrease in sales revenue. How much losses can our company bear? What is our projected cash flow deficit? Should we borrow more money to sustain the business? The entrepreneurs and business owners will have to decide.

Why nine months? The pandemic has now spread to over 190 countries in the world and even if Singapore is able to control Covid-19 by June, the economic recovery will be slow due to the global recession that has already set in. Singapore needs to preserve its productive capacity which includes the workforce for the gradual resumption of economic activities in global trade.

The appropriately named “Resilience Budget” is aimed at building resilience, supporting workers and protecting livelihoods. Stabilise businesses and preserving jobs. Providing welfare to its citizens. Singapore allocated S$15bil for salary subsidies and S$4.6bil for welfare payments. All direct cash payments.

In comparison, Malaysia has allocated salary subsidies of RM5.9bil and welfare payments of about RM12bil. I have no arguments against the welfare payments to the B40 group as they have insufficient savings to survive this trying period.

If Malaysia wants to prevent mass bankruptcies and mass unemployment in the SME sector, then we need to do more as the current direct cash injection falls way short. Granted our Government has no reserves to fall back on unlike Singapore, it does not mean we are not able to come up with creative solutions to solve our problems.

We know that our SME businesses will need to survive for the next six months with minimum losses. As such we must have solutions to help them reduce monthly operating cost with the view that there will be a minimum drop of 50% in sales revenue. Basic accounting rules in profit and loss (P&L) – expenses incurred like EPF, bank interests must be accounted for in the monthly accounts.

Deferred payment of EPF, interests, loans is part of cash flow computation, not P&L entries. To reduce operating cost, we would require the co-operation of the government, employers, employees and its business partners.

As the aviation industry will need complete bailout assistance from the government, I will focus on the next most affected industry which is the non-essential retail and food and beverage (F&B) shops which will suffer at least a 50% drop in revenue in the next six months.

Key observations

When revenue drops by 50% and only the wage subsidy of RM600 is provided, the losses will be too much for the business to bear. Businesses without deep pockets will close within three months and all staff will be retrenched.

Without any additional cash injection from the government, we would need to allow exemption of payment of EPF for both employer and employee for six months. The impact to the bottom line is significant. The employees will get to increase their take home pay by 11%.

Landlord to the non-essential retail outlets and F&B outlets must support with a 30% rebate on rental for six months. Better to keep a good tenant than no tenant.

The best outcome (lowest losses) is when the companies are allowed to conduct a 10 to 20% pay cut across the board. This will be offset by the additional 11% (EPF) take home pay for the employee.

There is no future for any companies that suffer a sales drop of 70%. Unless you have deep pockets to restructure and reset, it is better to cut your losses and exit.

For businesses with loss of sales below 50%, you will not benefit from the RM600 worker’s subsidy. You can use the above table to conduct your own assessment and sales forecast. I can assure you that if your sales were to decrease by 30%, you will need to conduct a cost-cutting exercise across the board for the next six months. Hopefully with the exemption to pay EPF, you might not need to conduct a deep pay cut.

Employer’s obligations

Show true leadership. Cut your own pay before your workers’.

Be transparent with your workers. Communicate clearly.

Suffer together, profit together. When sales are back to normal, reinstate to normal pay like before. If you make a decent profit by the end of the year, deposit back the exempted payments into the employees EPF

Pay your landlords on time. One good turn deserves another.

Finance Minister’s obligations

Extend wage subsidy from three months to six months. It will cost the government an additional RM5.9bil. Now you would have given a balanced resilience budget of wage subsidy of RM11.8bil against welfare payments of RM12bil.

Since the government is not able to subsidise 75% of wages, allow business owners the flexibility of salary adjustment of workers according to affected industries. It will cost the government nothing.

Exemption to pay EPF for both employer and employee for all businesses in Malaysia for six months. Corporate Malaysia thanks you. It will cost the government nothing.

Help the landlords. Exempt payment of quit rent and assessment rates for all commercial and industrial properties by state government and local councils for six months. Let the state government and local councils share the pain. It will cost the federal government nothing.

Tips for SMEs

Be numbers-driven. Test out the viability of your business with different scenarios of percentage loss in sales. If it is not viable, preserve your cash by slashing cost aggressively or exit. Live to fight another day.

Be careful. Do not borrow more from the banks to finance your losses. You will be made a bankrupt in six months’ time. Only borrow for critical cash flow requirements knowing that you will be able to pay back and that your business is sustainable in the next 12-18 months. Do not put good money to chase after bad money. Personal bankruptcy affects your family as well.

Be calm. I know many of you are worrying about the MCO and the recovery process, if any, within the next six months. Plan with the knowledge that this will be an extended period of pain and uncertainty. Plan for your business to stay alive for the next six months. It is anybody’s guess what the future holds so no point in thinking that far ahead.

Be patient. I know many of you are angry at the lack of support from the government. The support will come soon. The government’s first focus is on welfare payment to the B40’s and the needy. Our Prime Minister will want to prove that he is indeed a Prime Minister for all Malaysian or he will suffer later at the polls. Let us just continue to engage with the government in a civil manner and I am sure we will have a positive outcome soon. It is not too late for the government to give additional fiscal stimulus to the SMEs once they realise mass unemployment will occur if they don’t step in.

Stay calm. Stay at home.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2020/03/30/keep-calm-help-is-on-the-way