In 2020, Working Capital Requirements in the West increased (+5 days in North America and +1 day across Western Europe) while it dropped in regions such as Latin America (-3 days), Eastern Europe (-2 days) and APAC (-1 day). Inventory management and government support explain most of this divide. In the US and EU, severe lockdowns pushed companies into a "forced" stockpiling mode, which was fortunately tempered by the “invisible bank”, i.e. the very accommodating management of payment terms between customers and suppliers, , partly financed by liquidity support measures. 2020 saw a surge in WCR across industrial sectors: +13 days for metals to 95 days, +9 days to 117 days for machinery, +4 days to 84 days for paper and +3 days to 87 days for automotive.
Looking ahead, we estimate that large companies will face a record increase of EUR453bn in WCR in 2021, equivalent to +4 days of turnover, up to EUR8.4trn. This comes in a context of the strong demand rebound triggered by the grand reopening, alongside severe shortages in inputs, labor and final goods. The surge in WCR already observed in most developed economies will ramp up in 2021, while WCR would remain well under control in a few emerging countries, notably in China (-6 days). In both the US and the Eurozone, we expect WCR to rise by +4 days.
While all sectors will see a rise in WCR, consumer goods sectors could see the biggest jump. Last year was a year of divergence. We expect many global sector WCR levels to resynchronize on the upside in 2021, with retail (+9 days up to 52 days) and agrifood (+8 days up to 81 days) seeing the largest rises, followed by industrial sectors such as metals (+7 days up to 103 days), transport equipment (+5 days) and machinery (+4 days).
Stocks matter: Along with the “just in case” model of inventory management, and the end of “just in time” for most sectors, rebuilding stocks in an environment of supply shortages will be the key driver of the increase in global WCR, notably across Western European countries. In 2020, Days Inventory Outstanding surged by +5 days in North America and by +1 day in Western countries, while the drop in inventories across Emerging Markets made up for the stockpiling in developed economies. In 2021, we expect pent-up demand and the massive restocking policies of Western companies in the midst of global supply-chain disruptions to weigh notably on their WCR levels. However, in 2022, reduced supply bottlenecks should mitigate the soaring inventory fallout on developed countries' WCR.
State support matters, too: The additional WCR needs represent less than 20% of non-financial corporates’ net cash positions in the Eurozone. However, total deposits of non-financial corporates cover at best 30% of total debt, with France the most vulnerable. Our estimations for the Eurozone show that NFCs’ net cash positions (deposits – new loans up to EUR1mn) increased by EUR547bn in 2020, almost three times more compared to 2019. This compares to EUR102bn of expected additional WCR needed to be financed in 2021, i.e. 17% of 2020 net cash positions. Since the end of 2020, net cash positions have continued to increase in the Eurozone (EUR38bn as of May 2021), with Germany (+EUR18bn) and Italy (+EUR7bn) on top of the list, while in France net cash positions fell by -EUR9bn. However, if the grace periods on state-guaranteed loans are not extended beyond 2021, cash buffers will decrease as total deposits on non-financial corporates cover 30% of total debts at best, with only 23% in France, one of the lowest ratios.