Stockpiling, private debt, foreign funding: Mid-sized companies are finding money where they can as inflation and interest rates bite

The reality of higher inflation–7% on a global level according to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund–and its tangible impact on our wallets is a challenge we’ve all come to accept as a part of the current macroeconomic climate. There isn’t a day that goes by without some clear indication in the headlines that we are in a new world–or at least one that breaks from the past 20 years of global economics.

While inflation is usually spoken about in terms of the impact on consumers, it is critical to remember that the impact isn’t isolated to the average person on the street. It also affects the companies those people work for and purchase goods or services from, the vast majority of which are mid-sized corporates.

Small and medium-sized enterprises represent 90% of all companies and are responsible for close to 70% of jobs and gross domestic product globally, according to the World Economic Forum. Yet, due to their smaller scale, SMEs are often disproportionately affected by economic turbulence.

With inflationary pressures comes a litany of national monetary policy changes, which attempt to get inflation under control. Interest rates have increased significantly over the last 12 months. The era of cheap access to capital, a hangover from the Great Financial Crisis, has ended.

A natural response to inflation is fiscal conservation and prudence across the banking system. This then drives the need to innovate in financing whilst carefully examining the capital structures and funding options available to companies that don’t typically have easy access to public capital markets like large corporates do.

We’ve seen an uptick in mid-sized corporates moving to diversify their capital structures by including lower-cost financing options through debt issuances in a variety of currencies or considering funding sources that perhaps wouldn’t have been part of their traditional fundraising routes. Private debt, for example, is one area we’ve seen grow.

Mid-sized companies are moving toward liquidity optimization solutions to reduce their overreliance on credit facilities, including notional pooling or target balancing. These allow them to geographically redistribute pockets of cash and reduce overdraft exposure. Treasurers are also hunting for better returns on assets while balancing counterparty risks and liquidity requirements. We’ve seen an increased interest in short-term and more liquid investment options such as time deposits.

Another common approach is a strategy to mitigate the impact of inflation on supply chains by stockpiling raw materials. However, this approach may result in higher costs and increased liquidity requirements leading to a need for additional working capital.

While securing financing is one part of the puzzle, we often tell our clients that finding efficiencies and critically thinking about what you need and what’s expendable is key to weathering the current headwinds. Letting go of “hobby projects” and focusing on investing in your core proposition or product is what leads to resilience. Be brutal and honest with yourselves and with your teams–it will serve you well in the long run.

Building out flexibility in your operating model can also help as you can shift direction and invest in alignment with the trends you’re seeing in your revenue segments and your broader industry. With the tumult we’ve seen in the last four years, it has become abundantly clear: companies that are nimble, those not wed to five-year plans or rigid in their goals, are the ones that survive and even thrive.

Being nimble and flexible also means having the ability to identify opportunities and being in a position to seize them. This is especially the case for larger or more sophisticated mid-sized corporates that can find, in the midst of these economic pressures, golden opportunities for inorganic growth. Look around. Think about your smaller peers or complementary companies in your space that may add to your value proposition. We are in a buyer’s market, so opportunities for strategic and carefully considered expansion should be considered.

While higher inflation comes with its own set of challenges for mid-sized corporates, it does come with opportunities to optimize operations, drive efficiencies, and think truly about what your company stands for and what you aim to bring to the world and your customers.

Tasnim Ghiawadwala is the global head of Citi Commercial Bank.

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