SME bill payments in Q1 slow to 3-year low: DP Info

SINGAPORE - Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore are taking longer and longer to pay their bills.

The average SME now takes 44 days to settle accounts - the slowest rate of payment in three years, a study by DP Information Group has found.

In comparison, the time taken by SMEs to pay their bills in the fourth quarter of last year was 42 days. A quarter before, it was 36 days.

Eight of 14 industry sectors recorded slower payment speeds in the first quarter of 2015, indicating a general deterioration in payment behaviour across all industries, said DP Info.

The credit-related industry experienced the biggest decline in payment speeds, from 44 days to 51 days. This sector, which includes hire purchase, leasing and credit co-operatives, has a tendency to slow its payments during the first quarter of each year, partly due to the impact of the Chinese New Year period when they tend to slow their rate of collections.

The healthcare/medical sector paid its debts five days slower than the previous quarter. However the sector's Days Turned Cash (DTC) of 40 days is well within its historic range of payment speeds.

The biggest improvement in payment behaviour was in the shipping/marine sector where companies paid their 1Q 2015 bills 12 days faster than in 4Q 2014. The shipping/marine sector has benefited from a sustained period of lower oil prices which have helped improve the cash flow of these companies.

Mr Lincoln Teo, chief operating officer of DP Info, said the deterioration in payment behaviour had occurred during the last six months.

"The trend is towards slower payments by SMEs but there are no indications yet that any sector is experiencing any critical issues. Right now there is no need for alarm; however problems may occur if the trend continues throughout the year."

"As companies slow their payment speeds, their debtors are forced to do the same as they do not have the cash flow to make prompt payment. As a result, payments can slow across the board."

"SMEs will come under increased pressure to ensure they get paid promptly. They will need to be vigilant in pursuing monies owed and be more careful when making decisions to extend credit to another company," Mr Teo said.

The data is based on a ratio known as DTC, and measures the payment behaviour of more than 120,000 corporations and SMEs in Singapore each quarter.