COVID 19: The key risk for MSMEs- Liquidity or Solvency?

Post lockdown there is confusion about MSMEs’ real challenge- Is it temporary liquidity mismatch or long term sustainability.

Recently RBI announced a relief of moratorium (to pay EMIs) to businesses for three months. There was indeed a sigh of relief for many MSMEs as the cash flow is completely dried up and the obligations are firmly staring due to sudden disruption under COVID 19 lockdown. In addition, RBI also extended the relief from NPA classification for three months for the accounts in arrears.

They are welcome steps but will they suffice?  Whether MSMEs will revert to normalcy even if the lockdown is removed now and economy return to normalcy immediately.

Unlikely …….

Because each industrial segment has its own timeline to return to normalcy assuming every other factor is constant, and COVID19 will be at a manageable level.

Recently, Mr Deepak Parekh, an outstanding public personality and thinker said that the recovery may not happen at least for the next nine months. He also urged RBI to extend debt recast to enable the businesses to cope with the challenge.

I believe that it may take three quarters or more before we can see the normalcy returning to pre-March 24 level(the date of announcing the lockdown) in view of the steep demand destruction and uncertainties in the general economy that may lead to restricted consumption and investment.

If the general the situation should persist for such a long time, then obviously the question is whether the challenge for MSMEs is of Liquidity(cash crunch)  or its solvency (survival).

It is indeed solvency. The measures announced by RBI will not be sufficient to save the MSMEs from distress.

The present measures ( Moratorium and Suspending NPA classification) will last till May 2020.  It requires one to think of the possible solutions in a longer-term horizon. We are of the view that the policymakers need to extend more measures and options to deal with the crisis and to take away the pressure points in the relationship between creditors and borrowers.

What are the other options?

a)      Debt Restructuring

b)      Resolution support

Debt Restructuring: Debt restructuring is beneficial in the long-run to save from the distress and create breathing space to mitigate the impact of sudden disruption. MSMEs must look at this option without any hesitation. However, they have to have a properly drafted debt recast plan to realise its value.

Present debt restructuring scheme is available to those whose accounts are classified as standard and not availed the scheme earlier. This will last up to December 2020. Govt may prevail upon RBI to allow those who had already taken before this CoVID-19 event to help them as well.

In any case, it is desirable to wait (to apply) until the clarity in the situation emerges, maybe till June /July or before the account turns NPA.

Resolution Support:  There are many firms which have been sustaining their business on informal sources and even the suppliers also extend credit to them.   Some of the MSMEs are used to funding the business through multiple business loans from different banks and NBFCs.  In the present circumstances, people with diverse borrowing practice will suffer the most. Their numbers are not few. Bank loan restructuring scheme won’t solve their problem.

Supporting these organisations is important because they are huge in number and secondly they play an important role to facilitate return to normalcy in the economy.

The revival of these debt-laden yet potential firms require a different approach. The normal debt restructuring is not effective to help them sail through. There is a need to create a new roadmap within the existing institutional and policy measures.

Govt may help them by leveraging two instruments: Reactivating MSME revival framework and using the service of Insolvency Professionals to create a resolution framework.

Govt of India in the year 2015 came out with a framework to assist stressed MSMEs to undertake a Corrective Action Plan(CAP) to give the second lease of life. It is titled as “Framework for Revival and Rehabilitation of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)” In consonance with this framework, RBI came out with new regulatory guidelines in 2016 ( ref: RBI/2015-16/338 FIDD.MSME & NFS.BC.No.21/06.02.31/2015-16 dated March 17, 2016   )

This framework is quite comprehensive. A little bit of clarity and more inclusivity of interested persons /stakeholder will definitely help to find a viable solution to through resolution.

Some of the rules can be simplified For example it asks for forming a committee at the bank level to consider the cases and classification of the loan restructured as NPA.  We suggest that in place of the committee, Certified Insolvency Professionals who are specially trained and certified to handle the cases of distress may be roped in. Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) has empanelled a large number of professionals countrywide.

This special pool of competent people may independently assess the viability and bring on board all the interested persons to create a solution that will work at the grass-root level.

Another point is keeping the asset classification standard will obviously incentivize Banks and NBFCs to opt for this route.

Lastly, any resolution requires all the stakeholders to accept the longer timeline to recover their dues. Also, this mechanism may require that Banks and others commit to a lower rate of interest for the past as well as future. Still, it is a better option than One-time settlement that calls for a deeper haircut and causes permanent damage to the credit history of the borrowers.  Whereas reviving potential business asset leads to the huge economic multiplier effect.                   


The situation is alarmingly different. Explicit policy support is the need of the hour. Without active policy support, many of the  MSMEs may not sustain in the long run. Govt needs to bring a comprehensive broad range of options to support the distressed entities to overcome the challenge posed by COVID 19 crisis without any element of uncertainty. It is because what MSMEs are facing is not just immediate liquidity risk alone but also long term solvency.