As you read this, I’m sure activity in your company is picking up to begin deliveries, get cleanings done and generally preparing for the coming winter. From the financial side of the house, preparations also need to be made.
There are many items to prepare for on the financial front, but at this time on the calendar the most critical is ensuring your company has the liquidity to purchase and deliver product to your customers. Since time is short this time of year, I have prepared a quick checklist that all dealers should go through. These check points will help you assess your liquidity position and identify items that need to be addressed before the heating season goes into full swing.
Developments Over The Summer Impacting Liquidity
The most common development I have observed this summer impacting liquidity is that due to last year’s extremely warm winter customer credit balances this spring were unusually large. When the budget and pre-buy programs that went out over the summer and fall were adjusted to reflect these larger than normal credit balances, the resulting net cash collected was materially reduced.
I have seen cash collections decline by 1/3 up to ½ from the amounts dealers usually collect. The result of these lower collections has put many dealers in a position with less cash than they normally have at the beginning of the season. This will impact liquidity and have to be planned for. If you are fortunate to not be experiencing the reduced collections, going through the checklist is still a very good idea.
1. Supplier Trade Terms – Know now the terms you have from your supplier. How much is your total trade line? When are payments due? When do I have to pay in order to get a prompt pay discount?
There are two key points to remember about trade terms that impact liquidity. The first is the payment term is more important than the total amount of credit given. An example is that a supplier may grant you an increase in your trade line, but you still have to pay within 10 days via EFT.
So even though your supplier has increased the amount of credit they are giving you, the “real” amount is going to be determined by how much product is outstanding 10 days after lifting. In many cases this amount is below the expanded limit on your trade.
The second is that not paying fast enough to take advantage of prompt pay discounts is more expensive than using your line of credit from the bank. At today’s historically low interest rates, it’s much less expensive to obtain liquidity from the bank than from your supplier by not taking advantage of the prompt pay discount and stretching payments.
I know that it may be easier to work with your supplier but going through the process with the bank to get an appropriate line of credit will be worth it – dollar wise. You need to determine the maximum amount you can owe your supplier while still taking advantage of a prompt pay discount.
2. Cash On Hand From Pre-Buy – I discussed an important development regarding cash collections, now we have to address the practical impact. Do a quick calculation taking the number of pre-buy gallons sold and multiply by your weighted average per gallon cost supporting the pre-buy gallons. This will give you the total cost to supply your pre-buy customers. Subtract the amount of cash you have retained from your pre-buy sales from the total costs required to supply the pre-buy customers.
If the resulting number from this calculation is positive, then there is a high probability that this number represents the amount of additional liquidity needed for the upcoming heating season. For example, if you have always been able to take all the customer pre-buy money and put it in the bank using it to pay for the pre-buy oil when delivered but this year, for the reasons noted above, you are short. The amount you are short may indicate the amount of an increase needed to your line of credit.
3. Go To Your Bank To Get/Adjust & Renew Your Line of Credit – Now is the time to make sure your line of credit is in place at the bank and is of the appropriate size to handle your needs for the upcoming season. Make sure the size of the line of credit has been adjusted to address reduced collections from pre-buys, budgets and to allow you to take advantage of supplier prompt pay discounts. Be sure that the renewal date of the line is well past the heating season.
The biggest problem I commonly see is that the banks want to see December year-end financial statements before they adjust or renew lines of credit, and this puts the timing of the decision on the line of credit right in the middle of the heating season. Get out ahead of this cycle by beginning discussions. Meet with your banker NOW and let the bank know how much you need, don’t wait!
Following these three steps of the checklist will give you certainty that you will have the liquidity needed to keep deliveries flowing this winter. Getting to the bank now will head off any problems that may be lurking that could cause trouble. It’s always best to identify any issues, if any, now while there is time to craft solutions before a full blown crisis is created.
About the Author:
Matthew Ide, Managing Director of Angus Advisory & Finance, he is a seasoned financial executive with broad-based experience in operating, financing and investing, via the Angus Fund, in energy distribution companies, with a particular focus on the heating oil and propane industries. He has a successful 14-year track record in leadership roles in lending and investing, treasury management, strategic planning, product development and e-business in the banking and energy distribution industries. Prior to joining Angus, he was Senior Vice President of Energy Lending at RBS Citizens, N.A.; Matt has worked with hundreds of fuel distributors and is recognized as an industry leader. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and seminars. Matt holds a B.B.A. in Finance from George Washington University.