Posted on Nov 24, 2020 at 12:02 PMUpdated Nov 24, 2020, 12:15 PM

In Epernay, it is nicknamed ” the Champs Elysées of champagne “. This long thoroughfare, lined with mansions, warehouses and tasting places, concentrates the head offices of around ten great champagne houses.

Normally, it is an obligatory stopover for tourists and an exceptional showcase for the industry. Except that in this month of November, confinement requires, the shutters are closed and passers-by are rare.

However, time is running out for ” to save »The end of year celebrations and early 2021, a period that represents around a third of its annual income. The sector experienced a sharp drop in sales in March. It is a vigil of arms as much for the companies which live near or far from the prosperity of champagne, as for the banking sector, which finances them.

Like Toulouse with aeronautics, or Ile-de-France with tourism, the banks remain attentive to ” sector risk », When a sector of activity drives an entire regional economy.

The year was off to a good start in champagne, until confinement. We sold well this summer, but maybe it was just a form of pre-sale at the end of the year. », Underlines Xavier Muller, president of the Mailly Grand Cru cooperative, on the outskirts of Reims.

Success measured for the EMP

Around champagne, ” the sector also includes wire caps, disgorging machines, glassware, cardboard », Lists Olivier Collard, at the head of the Collard Picard house. And beyond that, champagne also drives tourism, the sale of cars, the construction of housing …

So far, the local economy has held up quite well. ” We had a dynamic start to the year which augured for a good year 2020 », Explains Laure Lesme-Berthomieux, Managing Director of Crédit Agricole Nord Est and long-standing partner of the sector.

The health crisis has brought the economy to a sudden halt. We have felt it on the activity of our customers and consequently on our own. From the end of confinement, the rebound was clear. The current confinement has heterogeneous consequences depending on the sector of activity and the ability to maintain or not a remote activity. “.

In addition to the summer rebound, companies have benefited from shock absorbers – moratoriums, partial unemployment and loans guaranteed by the State (PGE) – which have limited the breakage. The success of the EMP has remained measured in the Marne, with barely more than one billion euros in credits for 4,536 beneficiaries, mainly (in terms of amount) for the benefit of the manufacturing and trade sectors.

“We don’t know what tomorrow will bring”

In April, I took a EMP of 150,000 euros, half of what I could claim », Explains Vincent Mansencal, owner of Lion de Belfort, a central address in the commercial heart of Reims.

I closed for renovations in June, had a very good summer season, and benefited from a moratorium. But I resumed the refunds … just before the second closing », Explains the restaurateur for whom organizing a« click and collect »would be too expensive.

In the world of champagne, ” we observe that there were fewer cash requirements, and therefore PGEs granted, due to the operating cycle of this activity. Their financing needs are rather long term, this is not why the EMP was designed », Remarks Claude Koestner, general manager of CIC Est.

The EMP is good, but we commit without knowing the exit rate. I prefer a fixed rate cash loan with prepayment if possible », Emphasizes Xavier Muller.

Conversely, ” I took a EMP in May because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring ”, Explains Olivier Collard, who obtained 400,000 euros in funding supplemented by 100,000 euros from the Grand Est region. ” What would we do if access to credit became scarce? At least that way, I keep it in stock and if necessary, I use it to pay my bills “.

Others, more rare, had to go through credit mediation to obtain their EMP. In the Marne, 74 cases were eligible (out of 90 referrals), against twenty the previous year. This is the case, for example, of Richard Dubois, who manages a catering business for companies, and who won a hard-fought EMP of 17,000 euros, which will be used in particular to pay his rent, while he is embarking on the take away organic pizza.

Still, the coming quarters will not be without danger, in particular in the hotel and restaurant industries. Nationally, banks have started to spend provisions to deal with possible delinquencies.

It would be a lie to say that there will be no victims », Insists a local elected official. ” It is too early to know what will happen. Massive support measures, particularly from the State, EMPs, as well as moratoria play their role of shock absorbers “, Tempers Laure Lesme-Berthomieux.

A more radical choice

In the meantime, the mobilization remains relevant. For Crédit Agricole, this notably involves an offensive to equip VSEs / SMEs with e-commerce tools. ” Our advisers call all our customers to take stock of the situation and offer personalized solutions », Continues the manager.

At CIC, ” we are organizing to redo a complete point between December 15 and February 15. Companies will be able to choose the amortization period of their EMP. In our hands, there will also be the possibility of granting a new franchise year on the EMP. Most customers who ask for it should get it », Explains Claude Koestner.

If I had one observation for the banks it would be ‘have more flexibility on loans’, but I would like to say that this had already been the case during the first containment “, Indicates Arnaud Robinet, mayor (LR) of Reims, who campaigns for shops” non-essential Can open by appointment.

The physiognomy of the next few months will also depend on the companies, and on their choice to reimburse or spread out their EMPs. ” We will see in the spring of 2021, this is where it will be discussed. We will then see whether or not there is a vaccine, and whether the business is starting up again. In this case, I will reimburse it. Otherwise, I spread it out », Explains Olivier Collard. Others think of leveraging inter-company credit in order to avoid new bank indebtedness.

But a more radical choice would be to file for bankruptcy without delay. ” What wins a business is always a liquidity crisis, even with a good level of equity. For a restaurateur, it may be preferable to close a business to better preserve other establishments », Recognizes a banker.

A dilemma that many entrepreneurs hope not to be faced with. For Richard Dubois, the situation is clear. ” This time I have no choice, I have to go find new customers “.