“How do I reimburse a PGE which corresponds to 15% of my turnover when I still make 20% less turnover than before the crisis? It is not possible”. Patrick Bellity, foundry boss Sifa Technologies, sums up the dilemma he is currently facing.

The company, already weakened by the diesel crisis of the end of the 2010s, subscribed to a PGE in mid-2020. The entrepreneur has negotiated a delay until November 2022 of his first reimbursements. And after ? “I don’t know if I will be able to pay because I don’t know what my order level will be in the fall,” he says.

According to the Banque de France, of the nearly 700,000 companies having subscribed to a PGE for more than 148 billion euros in total, the default rate could barely reach 3%.

“In general, many companies have a fairly strong ability to adapt”, confirms Virginie Normand, director of specialized markets Banque Populaire at BPCE, who judges “epsilonesque” the level of unpaid at this stage on the some 230,000 PGE granted by the group.

“With a few exceptions, the companies have started to reimburse as planned”, we confirm in Bercy, where the crisis exit committee created in mid-2021 is piloted.

– “No more room for maneuver” –

But these rather reassuring statistics should not hide the real difficulties of certain companies.

As for the tourist group Pierre et Vacances, forced into a backup plan and which saw its PGE converted into capital for more than 200 million euros, bringing creditors into the group’s shareholding.

In the hotel and catering industry, where many companies have taken out PGEs, one in four companies said at the end of June that they were unable to honor their reimbursements, in a context where inflation is curbing consumer spending.

The situation is also tense in tourism where “many companies, hit hard by the pandemic, have requested the maximum authorized PGE, i.e. (an amount corresponding to) 25% of turnover. Repay it over four years it’s really complicated”, worries Yvon Peltanche, representative of the professional association Travel Companies.

He himself has taken out several PGEs for his network of travel agencies. He has no difficulty paying in the short term but has “no more room for maneuver” if the activity falters, as he already fears with the disruptions expected in air transport this summer.

In textiles, the treasurer of the National Federation of Clothing (FNH) Stéphane Rodier explains to AFP that he had “not very happy feedback from accounting firms, insofar as the PGEs are now to be reimbursed not not over 6 years but over 4 years (due to the two-year postponement for the first deadlines), with sometimes a little less activity”.

– Restructure –

Companies in difficulty can ask to restructure their PGE through credit mediation, via a specific mechanism negotiated between the State and the banks, which in particular makes it possible to extend the repayment period up to 10 years.

For the moment, only 300 cases have been handled by credit mediation, a “very low” figure, a sign that the financial situation of companies remains positive, according to mediator Frédéric Visnovsky.

However, many companies are unaware of the existence of this 10-year staggering mechanism, and many others shun it because it downgrades their rating and complicates their financing.

“I started to worry at the beginning of 2022 because the cash flow was picking up quite slowly. I said to myself: I will go and negotiate with my bankers. They told me Very well, but know that it will be difficult for you to finance you for the next 3 to 5 years, “says Jean Valfort, head of Panorama Group, owner of five restaurants and brands of virtual kitchens, which has contracted a PGE of 1.5 million euros.

“When you are in default, the credit insurers withdraw, which means that you have to pay your suppliers immediately, and that only makes the situation worse”, also advances François Asselin, president of the CPME, who believes that companies will tend to “prefer collective procedures that freeze debts” (safeguard plan, receivership, liquidation, etc.)

“We are aware of this difficulty, but the PGE is a bank loan, so the banks apply rules”, fixed at European level, we answer Bercy.

If there is no fire today, the deterioration of the economic outlook for the coming months is worrying. “We are starting to see signs of erosion of the order books” of companies and, “if the activity crumbles, it can be complicated”, warns François Asselin.

The Banque de France, on which credit mediation depends, could also soon revise upwards its forecasts on the number of companies unable to repay their PGE, recognizes Frédéric Visnovsky.