DECRYPTION – The dreaded industrial recession did not occur at the end of 2022, but some companies are suffocated by their soaring bills.Source: © These SMEs trapped by electricity contracts signed at high prices
DECRYPTION – The dreaded industrial recession did not occur at the end of 2022, but some companies are suffocated by their soaring bills.
Maxime Mathey, the general manager of Outillage Magafor, is very worried. This manufacturer of cutting tools for metallurgy, which achieves a turnover of more than 20 million euros and employs 160 people, finds itself in a tense financial situation at the start of the year. because of his energy bill. “Electricity is our main item of energy expenditure, emphasizes Maxime Mathey. Last year, our bill was 350.000 euros. It should increase to 1,8 million euros this year. The case of Outillage Magafor is not isolated. Some companies are caught by the throat, forced to honor the bills of a contract signed at a high price in the fall of 2022, when electricity and gas prices were at their highest.
Since then, prices have fallen sharply. The 10% decline in industrial activity at the end of 2022, announced by France Industrie, did not occur. And the government has released several billion in aid. “Overall, the aid put in place by the State provides a real breath of fresh air, recognizes Alexandre Montay, general delegate of Meti, the movement of mid-sized companies. But there are holes in the racket.”
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Tariff shield, shock absorber, counter… The panel of aids to companies faced with the rise in energy prices is vast, perhaps too much. Between those who are entitled to it and do not know how to do it and those who have gone under the radar, there are still many gray areas in the system. As illustrated by the case of Mithieux Metal Protect, a specialist in industrial anti-corrosion treatments, which employs 65 people and achieves a turnover of 8 million euros. The situation of this company is complex. It terminated its electricity supply contract at the end of 2021, which led it to have two months of bills without Arenh (the share of electricity sold by EDF at low prices, because it is based on nuclear costs), therefore very expensive. And since it is this 2021 invoice which serves as the basis for the aid, the company was not able to benefit from it last year.
“Deadlines on a case-by-case basis”
“In 2021, electricity accounted for 6% of our turnover. Last year, it had risen to 12%, despite our sobriety efforts., deplores Jonathan Fhima, Managing Director of Mithieux Metal Protect. And this year promises to be even worse, probably around 17% or 18% of its turnover. “We should receive aid this year, but we do not have a very clear estimate of what this will represent”, says Jonathan Fhima. At Outillage Magafor, the shock absorber should lower the bill by 600.000 euros, but it will still remain very – too – high. “This invoice will eat up all our margin”, can only see Maxime Mathey.
About fifty ETIs find themselves in a very complicated financial situationAlexandre Montay, General Delegate of the Movement of Mid-Size Companies
First of all, the government had targeted very small businesses, small and medium-sized (VSEs and SMEs). The device is effective, even if not everyone manages to avoid the tidal wave of the rise. The large groups have organized themselves with complex hedging strategies. There remain medium-sized companies (ETI), which employ more than 250 employees and for which energy represents less than 3% of their turnover, which are not affected by aid for SMEs. However, some have seen their electricity bill soar. “There is a real subject, confirms Alexandre Montay, linked to the obligation to have a share of energy representing 3% of turnover in 2021.” If there were only 15% of Meti member companies meeting this criterion in 2021, today they are 40%! “About fifty medium-sized companies find themselves in a very complicated financial situation, emphasizes Alexandre Montay again. A player in the food industry must pay a bill of 1 million euros per month. Some have to take out new PGEs to pay their bills.”
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This situation also worries the energy suppliers. “We are talking to these customers, who may be in difficulty sometimes for reasons other than rising energy prices. We can offer them payment schedules on a case-by-case basis. But we are not renegotiating these contracts., explains Nelly Recrosio, director of business markets at EDF. Another electricity supplier explains "dealing with cases on a case-by-case basis".
The situation is all the more cruel for some of these trapped companies that they heard the message launched by Emmanuelle Wargon, in our columns, in mid-November: “We really need to sign now, or at the very least find a supplier and start discussions on the 2023 electricity contracts.” Which was not necessarily the best solution for companies. “Companies that took the risk of keeping exposure at the spot price are in a much more comfortable situation today than those that signed at a fixed price at the end of last year”, admits Alexander Montay.
Finally, everything is not yet resolved for the companies that benefit from aid. "The customer must declare that they are eligible and therefore return the certificate to us", insists Nelly Recrosio. Then, the request must be able to be processed. When in doubt, some business leaders have ticked all the boxes of the certificate, but you should only tick that of your category. Others sent handwritten letters, omitting the expected mentions…
Aware of the difficulties encountered by certain VSEs and SMEs, EDF has delayed sending the January invoices. Time also for the electrician to update his own computer system. “We are going to start sending the January invoices to those whose certificate has been sent and validated. But the latecomers really need to come forward., insists Nelly Recrosio.