Business

08 Apr 2020, 12:41 PM

STA, 8 April 2020 - Businesses which had to close their doors due to the coronavirus lockdown have been left without revenue. To add to their woes, many need to pay rent and running costs. Some landlords have decided to help them by deferring rent, others are still deciding what to do.

Small businesses selling non-essential goods and providing various services, as well as bars and restaurants were forced to close shop in mid-March, and many of them warn that they might not be able to re-open at all.

Many of them find it difficult to pay wages for March, let alone rent and utility costs.

Owners of shopping centres and malls have come up with different solutions for the problems of their tenants, and all of them stress that this is the first time they have encountered such a situation.

The retailer Tuš said it had not decided yet whether to lower rent, while Spar said that the "situation requires a great deal of adjustment and understanding, but we believe that we will find optimal solutions in the spirit of good cooperation."

Supernova, the Austrian-owned shopping mall operator, said it was in constant contact with tenants, making individual arrangements. "We want to balance out the consequences, as one side must not bear all the consequences, be it the tenant or the landlord."

SES Slovenija, which operates the shopping malls Citypark, Citycenter, Europark and Aleja, with the last one yet to be opened, has admitted that the crisis has taken them by surprise, and that many issues remain open.

The company has allowed its tenants to defer rent and operating cost for April. "By doing so we want to help entrepreneurs maintain their liquidity, even before the state adopts measures to support commerce and before this aid takes effect."

It added that additional support measures for salvaging Slovenian retail, services and hospitality companies were not excluded, but this would depend on the financial support from the state and the duration of the restrictive measures.

As for Aleja, which was supposed to open on 19 March, SES Slovenija said that individual solutions were being sought with tenants. "All partners will be able to defer payment of rent from the date of the planned opening to the date of actual opening."

The company would like to see the state come up with a plan for re-opening shops and individual branches of industry, as this would help all stakeholders organise and optimise costs.

The Slovenian Chamber of Commerce (TZS) will, according to its president Mariča Lah, publish this week an assessment of the situation in commerce, which will serve as basis for a proposal to re-open shops selling technical goods.

Rent could be tackled by the additional anti-corona legislative package, which is being drafted by the government.

The TZS has proposed a model for distributing the burden, under which the state would cover around 70% of rent, and the payment of the remaining amount would be agreed between the owner and tenant.

Under this model, landlords would not be able to terminate contracts due to the non-payment of rent, which would be applied retroactively as of the day when the epidemic was declared, 12 March.

SES Slovenija added that retail, as one of the largest employers in the country, had been severely affected and that comprehensive measures would be needed. It proposes that the state subsidises write-offs of goods which could not be sold.

The company also proposes that the state provide grants to businesses for the costs incurred during the closure and for a certain period after the closure (rent, insurance premiums, leasing instalments and utility bills).

08 Apr 2020, 11:22 AM

STA, 7 April 2020 - Demand for content on Slovenian digital platforms surged to record values in the second half of March as Slovenia switched to a coronavirus lockdown mode, an analysis carried out by advertising agency Iprom shows.

The number of users of online platforms increased by 52% over February and they consumed an average of 75% more content daily.

Content for children and youth posted the biggest rises: its average daily reach was up 166% and daily visits by 213%.

Health was the second faster growing category in terms of daily reach, posting a 92% rise, followed by food (+68%) and business (+66%).

The steepest drop, although of just 16%, was recorded for tourism content.

"Interest in digital platforms rose over the past two weeks by almost as much as in the entire last decade," Iprom said in a release.

It said that an average annual rise in the past used to range between 5% and 15%.

"What we are witnessing these days is a phenomenon. I have never seen such growth in my career," said Iprom Labs boss Tomaž Tomšič.

He believes such a massive rise in interest in online content is a major challenge for all those who run and maintain digital platforms.

02 Apr 2020, 12:05 PM

STA, 2 April 2020 - Telekom Slovenije, the majority state-owned telecoms incumbent, posted a group net profit of EUR 1.2 million for 2019, a fraction of the EUR 33.3 million it recorded a year before, largely due to a one-off payment over a now dissolved media joint venture.

Telekom had been ordered by a court of arbitration in late-2019 to buy out its partner in the joint venture, the Greece-based Antenna Group, for EUR 17.6 million plus interest, significantly above what it initially offered.

The company said on Thursday that without the one-off charge for the media venture Antenna TV SL and the associated events it would have posted a 13% increase in like-for-like profit over the year before.

Group profit before interest, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) was at EUR 205.4 million, an increase of 11%, whereas pre-tax profit (EBIT) rose by 73% to EUR 31 million, shows the financial report.

Group net sales stood at EUR 675.4 million, which is 6% below the 2018 level. The company however says that the figures are not directly comparable since Blicnet, a Bosnian subsidiary which was sold in 2018, was still included in financials for 2018.

Additionally, revenue contracted in the segments international wholesale traffic, mobile subscriptions and IT sales, while increases were recorded in the segments e-health, energy and financial services.

Group operating revenue thus totalled EUR 681.7 million, down one percent over the year before.

Investments amounted to almost EUR 168 million, which is below plans. The company says it had optimised purchasing and achieved the goals with lower investment outlays.

Having spent EUR 93 on dividend payments last year, Telekom does not plan to pay out dividends this year. While it has an accumulated profit of EUR 30.2 million, it plans to retain it quoting "uncertain impacts and unclear consequences" of the coronavirus pandemic.

Telekom CEO Tomaž Seljak is quoted as saying that the company quickly responded to the pandemic to ensure uninterrupted operation, but due to uncertainty about the gravity and duration of the pandemic it cannot reliably estimate how it will affect its operations.

01 Apr 2020, 15:30 PM

STA, 1 April 2020 - BSH Hišni Aparati, which was one of the first large manufacturers in Slovenia to halt production over the coronavirus epidemic, is also among the first to relaunch it. The company, the largest producer of small household appliances in Europe, operated at 15% of capacity on Monday and hopes to be at 50% next week.

"We mostly had to close because public transport was suspended, as 75% of our workers used the bus to come to work...The second reason was the absence of protective equipment and the fact that an outbreak in our factory would have meant an excessive peril for the Upper Savinja Valey. There are 1,500 of us here while the valley has 16,000 inhabitants," BSH director Boštjan Gorjup explained for the business daily Finance.

After closing shop on 15 March, BSH, which is a part of the international concern BSH Home Appliances Group, told around 150 workers to return to work on Monday. While planning to start working at 50% capacity next week, Gorjup, who is also the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), explained this still depended on suppliers.

"Those in China have been working for some time already. I expect that those in Italy will get a green light after an inspection where they need to prove they meet security demands, much like was the case in China. We also issued a document stating that their parts are crucial for us," Gorjup said.

BSH is now taking the temperature of workers entering the factory, while providing each one with two surgical masks, protective gloves and glasses. Work has been adjusted to provide a two metre distance between workers or through plastic barriers. They are coming to work by car now, with special parking space provided.

Gorjup said that demand for household appliances had not fallen with the crisis, with online purchases replacing conventional shopping.

The other major household appliance maker in Slovenia, Gorenje, which has a 3,400-strong workforce, meanwhile remains closed. On 20 March, the management of the company, owned by China's Hisense, decided to close all facility in Europe from 23 March to 5 April.

The company, which initially introduced extensive protective measures, said then it would close as a precautionary measure to contribute to efforts to contain the virus even though it had sufficient amounts of protective equipment and production material.

The management and the trade union agreed to resume production on 6 April unless this is prevented by additional measures in other countries that would hamper operations in the industry.

Also remaining closed is Renault's Novo Mesto-based assembly plant Revoz, which suspended production on 17 March. Revoz, which emloyss around 3,400 people, said future steps would remain on "both the situation in the country and the decisions of the Renault Group".

30 Mar 2020, 13:08 PM

STA, 30 March 2020 - Housing prices increased by 5.2% in 2019 in what was the fifth consecutive year of growth, show data released by the Statistics Office on Monday. The number of real estate transactions was up 4%, mostly on account of sold used flats, while the value of the deals amounted to EUR 1.3 billion, an increase of roughly 6% on 2018.

The continuation of growth came after the housing market started recovering in 2015 with 0.1% growth to then see prices rise by 6.9% in 2016, by 10% in 2017 and by 9.1% in 2018, said the office.

The total number of real estate deals made last year was 13,682, which is a 4% increase on 2019 but 8% less than in the record year 2017.

The office pointed out that the sale of new units had been very modest for two years now, while the sale of used units was going strong, with 3,458 transactions recorded in the last quarter of 2019 alone for a record total amount of EUR 340 million.

Used flats accounted for 2,141 transactions in the last quarter of 2019, which compares to only 107 new housing units sold for a total of EUR 18 million. The latter was still an increase on 70 units sold in the third quarter.

The prices of new flats have seen fluctuations in the past four years, but a clear growth was recorded. In the last quarter of 2019 they were 26.9% higher on average than in 2015.

The prices of used housing units fell in the last quarter of 2019 for the first time after 15 consecutive quarters of growth. They were down by 0.2%, but merely on account of a 3.6% decrease in the prices of used houses as used flats were 1.7% dearer. In Ljubljana, used flats were 0.4% more expensive.

Year-on-year, the biggest increase in prices was seen in the last quarter for new houses (10.9%), followed by used flats in regions other than the capital (7.1%), new flats in general (6.3%), used houses (3.8%) and used flats in Ljubljana (3.2%).

27 Mar 2020, 14:20 PM

STA, 27 March 2020 - 2TDK, the state company managing the construction of the new railway between the port of Koper and Divača, has signed an EU 8.5 million contract with a consortium led by Markomark Nival on the construction of bridges across the Glinščica Valley, one of the first large structures on the new track.

The contract covers the construction of two bridges, which is expected to take 15 months. Under initial plans, the work should start in August and finish in November 2021.

The EU is to fund 85% of the Glinščica Valley project. However, missing the December 2021 deadline for the completion of the project would result in the European funding needing to be returned. To catch the deadline, work would need to begin in mid-2020 at the latest.

The contract was signed on Friday by 2TDK director general Dušan Zorko and director Marko Brezigar. Due to coronavirus measures, Markomark CEO Nival Marko Peter and Ekorel CEO Zoran Pogačar signed it separately.

The signing of the contract comes after the consortium, which won the public tender for the first of several bridges on the planned new Koper-Divača railway, was rejected over flawed documentation but was later successful with its appeal. Markomark Nival was asked to supplement its file.

27 Mar 2020, 09:30 AM

STA, 26 March 2020 - The Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) has warned that as many as 1,400 sole proprietors closed their business this month and proposes that these also be included in the measures planned by the government to alleviate the economic impact of the coronavirus epidemic if they opt to relaunch their business.

The OZS says that many of the sole proprietors have closed their firms in order to avoid paying social security contributions and taxes at a time when demand for their services and products has died down.

"We need to understand the distress of many sole proprietors who lost their income overnight... and because there was only talk of deferring the payment of contributions and taxes, many opted to close their businesses," the chamber said on Thursday.

Last week, the National Assembly passed changes allowing sole proprietors to defer the payment of social security contributions and taxes for April, May and June.

This week, the government announced additional measures for sole proprietors, including social security contribution and tax exemptions, and providing a monthly universal income of 70% of the minimum wage.

Details of this proposal are to be defined by the government on Friday.

The OZS warned today that unless sole proprietors who had closed their businesses be included in these measures, they would end up at the Employment Office and in need of welfare, becoming an additional burden for the state.

The OZS also proposes that the measures planned be effective as of 1 March, when the slump in orders had begun to show.

23 Mar 2020, 15:43 PM

STA, 23 March 2020 - Virtually all Slovenian businesses have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its ramifications with 93% of the companies surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) reporting serious difficulties. The chamber estimates a stimulus package of up to 4 billion euro is needed to avert an economic and social crisis.

"The situation at businesses is getting more alarming by the day," the GZS stated on Monday as it released the results of a survey conducted last week among micro, small, medium-sized and large companies.

Four out of ten companies estimate their revenue will drop by more than 70% in March due to disruption to business caused by coronavirus, a further 18% expect to halve their revenue and as many project a fall of at least 30%.

Micro and small businesses have been particularly hard hit with half of them expecting more than a 70% fall in revenue.

Current estimates show more than half of the companies surveyed expect a slump in business over the next three to six months and one out of three expect a limited scope of operations to persist for more than six months.

A large majority (61%) have been hit hardest by a drop in domestic demand and government measures banning direct sale of goods and services to customers, suspended public transportation and school closure (59%).

Over a third (37%) report difficulties due to lockdowns and similar restrictions in other countries, and almost as many (35%) say they have been affected by a drop in foreign demand.

Other problems reported by the companies surveyed include disruption to international transport (29%) or disrupted supply chains (20%). Some are complaining about a lack of protective equipment.

"Fact is that we have already moved from a health crisis deeply into an economic crisis. Experience suggests that a health crisis takes about two and a half months. In a similar scenario in Slovenia the epidemic jeopardising people's lives could be weathered by roughly mid-May," the chamber said.

It added that the decisions that were being taken by the government these days would decide how deep and how long the economic crisis, and hence the scope and length of social turmoil.

Businesses expect the state to fully cover the cost of the temporarily laid off labour force, defer tax liabilities, take measures to secure liquidity and labour market flexibility, set up a one-stop shop offering topical info for companies, ensure smooth movement of goods across the border and measures to secure claims in some markets.

The GZS estimates that for the Slovenian economy to remain in business and preserve as many jobs as possible liquidity measures of between two and four billion euro are needed, urging the government to draw up a new emergency package.

The chamber has sent its list of proposals to the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology.

The GZS has also joined a group of several other business associations, including the Slovenian-German Chamber of Commerce, the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and AmCham Slovenia, who called for fast action to help businesses.

The group offered to the government and the crisis busting taskforce headed by economist Matej Lahovnik "all the expertise that Slovenian managers, entrepreneurs and economic and management experts can offer".

The calls come as a growing number of business are suspending or scaling down their operations to the minimum. The latest to announce a temporary closure of its 18 shops across the country has been the Croatian bakery chain Mlinar.

The glassworks Steklarna Rogaška reduced its production to 7% capacity because it cannot halt the melting furnace without long-term consequences. The decision was taken in agreement with its owner, the Helsinki-based Fiskars Group, the trade union and the works council.

The Zreče-based tool maker Unior has reduced production as well, but is still meeting its obligations to buyers, and business is continuing as usual in the division catering to the automotive industry.

Second emergency package taking shape, hints at help for self-employed

STA, 23 March 2020 - The government will discuss Monday evening guidelines for a new emergency package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the population and the economy. The guidelines, which include pay bonuses for workers in critical sectors, will be presented on Tuesday and include aid to the self-employed, PM Janez Janša announced.

Janša said the guidelines, to serve as a basis for legislation the government wants to adopt by this Friday, had been coordinated by the coalition parties last Friday and were now supplemented with proposals by ministries and the advisory task force led by economist Matej Lahovnik.

The pending new measures announced last Saturday include 10-200% pay bonuses to those working in critical sectors such as healthcare, civil protection, security and critical infrastructure, as well as a temporary 30% pay cut for all state officials.

Employers in the private sector will be advised to secure bonuses for hard-working staff, in particular in groceries.

In a tweet published today, Janša added the "guidelines will include solutions for aid to the self-employed", a measure that many argued was lacking in the first emergency package adopted by parliament last week.

According to Janša, the basic idea of the package will be freezing the state of affairs. Thus the government will secure the funds needed "to preserve jobs, social stability, economic capacity, public service, potential in science, culture...in society in general".

On Saturday Janša announced a crisis bonus for pensioners and other vulnerable groups and compensation for companies that had to close shop because of the epidemic.

The government plans to define a model for determining the damage suffered by businesses as a result of the epidemic and lay down a reimbursement framework.

In the night to Friday last week, parliament passed the first package of emergency laws. The measures included pay compensation for temporary lay-offs, loan payment and tax duty deferrals for companies, as well as trade restrictions for agriculture and food products. One act gave the government complete discretion over the allocation of budget funds.

23 Mar 2020, 15:19 PM

You probably first heard of Viberate a few years ago, when it got written up along with the wave of blockchain companies based in Slovenia, with its key selling point being “music”. But while most of those of other start-ups failed to deliver on their promises, and many have simply disappeared, Viberate continues to develop and grow, with over 100 people working around the world on a variety of projects.

These are all based on a love of music, an understanding of the data associated with the business, and the value that can be added from analysing and applying it. In addition to working with industry professionals in the "live part" of the business (meaning musicians, festival organizers, venues, event promotors), Viberate also offers the Tonight Nightlife Guide app (Android and IoS), which in less viral times helps you plan a top night out in the various party cities of Europe, and a service to help music festivals develop their own apps. In short, it’s an exciting company, based in Ljubljana and going out into the world, one that’s well worth checking in on if you haven’t done so in a while.

Stay home and party with Umek, Slovenia’s own superstar DJ and one of Viberate’s founders

But why are we writing about a company that helps promote live shows when there are no live shows being planned? That’s because the good folk at Viberate, true to their flexible and dynamic origins have wasted no time to adapt to the new reality. They’ve set up Sick Festivals, a website that tracks which music festivals around the world have been cancelled or postponed, covering events in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania. You can find it here, and in doing so reintroduce yourself to a Slovenian business that can help you plan your next big night out, whenever that is. And if you’re part of the live music industry then why not follow them on Facebook and keep an eye out some new solutions and features that Viberate is developing to help soften the impact of the current situation, which we’ll also report here when ready for release.

23 Mar 2020, 13:32 PM

STA, 23 March 2020 - The coronavirus crisis will have a huge impact on Slovenia's and Europe's economies and monetary policy measures will be commensurate to the gravity of the situation. Equally important will be decisive and fast fiscal policy action, Boštjan Vasle, the governor of Slovenia's central bank, told the STA.

"It is clear at this moment that the effects of coronavirus on our economic growth will be enormous," Banka Slovenije governor Vasle said, adding that estimates about the scope of the contraction will only be possible once the health situation calms down.

Vasle said monetary policy measures in the eurozone had been taken with the awareness of how serious the situation is. "Their most important message is that they are adjusted to the scope of damage that will occur. This will remain so in the future."

The European Central Bank (ECB) and national central banks in the Eurosystem have increased asset purchases in the framework of existing programmes and added a EUR 750 billion asset purchase instrument last week.

"Add together the value of these measures and we're talking about almost a thousand billion euro at the level of the eurozone. For comparison, Slovenia's GDP is around EUR 46 billion."

This is a clear signal that monetary policy is aware of the gravity of the crisis and that central banks are capable of fast and effective action. The ECB's governing council will keep a close eye on the situation and use all instruments at its disposal for additional action if necessary, he said.

If the response to this health crisis is to be successful, coordinated action of all economic policies in a country is necessary along with concerted action by domestic and EU institutions.

The ECB's governing council therefore believes that fiscal policy must respond with equal determination and perhaps even more decisively than monetary policy, according to Vasle.

"Slovenia must bear in mind the experience of the previous crisis. This experience says countries which had reacted fast were more successful and in some cases subject to fewer of the restrictions that were put in place after the initial period of action."

Slovenia's fiscal policy action is constrained by a constitutional fiscal rule. The government has repeatedly said it would take advantage of the built-in flexibility of the constraints and Vasle likewise noted that the existing rules have exemptions for extraordinary circumstances. "It would not make sense not to take advantage of that."

Turning to the state of the Slovenian banking system, Vasle said that banks were in better shape than they had been when the financial crisis erupted.

They are sufficiently capitalised and the structure of their financing is significantly different in that it is based on deposits; equity is seven times the size of non-performing loans, which improves resilience to the current shock.

Neither do banks have packages of non-performing loans on their portfolios - which had been a part of the reason why the previous crisis was so deep - while companies are financially stronger and better equipped to absorb the crisis.

Overall the liquidity of the banking system is good, with EUR 5.7 billion in primary liquidity and EUR 7.7 billion in secondary liquidity that banks may activate by selling liquid investments or by leveraging them for monetary policy measures.

"Despite the good starting point, the crisis will of course reflect on banks as well," said Vasle, adding that the impact would strongly depend on the duration of the extraordinary circumstances and the effectiveness of mitigation measures.

The fundamental objective of Banka Slovenije action within the eurozone system and in the framework of cooperation with the government is therefore to design measures that will make it possible to quickly overcome the crisis and return back to normal operations as soon as possible.

The Slovenian parliament last week passed an emergency law deferring loan payments. Banks will be obligated to grant creditors deferral, which Vasle said would eliminate uncertainty among companies and households as to how they can act in the event they are unable to meet their loan obligations.

Asked about the financial impact of this measure on banks, Vasle said it would depend on how the pandemic develops and how long it lasts. Banka Slovenije has tested even exceptionally unfavourable scenarios and determined that even in this case the measures would be financially acceptable.

But Vasle stressed that this was merely the first tier of action as coordination efforts were already under way at eurozone level to make sure such deferral of interest and principal payments do not affect bank operations.

"It is important here to assure all banks that the measures which they adopt during the crisis will affect all eurozone banks the same way. This is the only way to avoid banks in an individual country having an advantage," he said.

The third tier of action involves additional guarantees that the state could provide, for example via SID Banka, the Slovenian export and development bank, which would additionally reduce uncertainty for the people and companies.

"It is my estimate that a solution will soon be presented to the public. At this moment a legislative solution that would make this possible is already being prepared."

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here

23 Mar 2020, 09:16 AM

STA, 18 March 2020 - The Italian owners of the Slovenian subsidiary of the banking group Unicredit confirmed on Wednesday the allocation of EUR 22.8 million out of EUR 45.1 million in last year's distributable profit for dividends, meaning EUR 4.67 gross per share. The remainder will remain undistributed.

The Unicredit shareholders were also notified of the supervisory board changes - the term of five supervisors is to expire on 4 April, Pasquale Giamboi and Andrea Cesaroni will remain on the board for another term, while other three supervisors will be replaced by Enrica Rimoldi, Giorgiana Lazar O'Callaghan and Fabio Fornarolli.

Unicredit Slovenia also endorsed a multi-annual development plan for the period up to 2023 at today's meeting.

Last year, Unicredit Banka Slovenija and Unicredit Leasing generated EUR 79 million in operating revenue, a 0.5% increase year-on-year. Meanwhile, net interest revenue dropped by 8.2% to EUR 46 million compared to 2018.

The Italian banking group Unicredit generated EUR 3.4 billion in net profit, down almost 18% year-on-year. The group's revenue saw a downturn as well, with the management attributing poorer business results mostly to a drop in net interest revenue.

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