By Jo Francis, Tuesday 23 May 2017
Anton Group owed trade creditors £6.9m and had an estimated total shortfall of almost £13.4m when it collapsed earlier this year.
The Essex firm had been the country’s largest single-site sheetfed printer. The £36.5m turnover company went into administration in March, and ceased trading last month after hopes of finding a buyer for the business faded.
The latest reports from administrators at Deloitte state that unsecured creditors were owed circa £11.6m and there is “no prospect” of funds being returned. Secured creditor Lloyds Bank Commercial Finance, owed nearly £5.5m, is also unlikely to be paid in full.
Deloitte’s report states that Anton failed after “struggling financially in recent years”, with sales declining since April 2016 “due to a competitive marketplace and poor internal information systems”. The ill-fated acquisition of Merchandise 365 “diverted management time and significant investment in working capital, for ultimately little incremental sales”.
The group had agreed a deferred payment plan with its 14 biggest creditors at the end of last year, but was unable to secure a refinancing deal, and by mid-March was unable to meet its debts as they fell due.
Paper merchant Elliott Baxter was the group’s biggest trade creditor (see table below), owed £1.3m in its own right plus separate amounts for paper it supplied on behalf of print managers Williams Lea, HH Global, RR Donnelley, Banner Managed Communication and Adare, which took the total to more than £1.4m.
“We were fully insured and while this is obviously a setback, we are a strong and robust company and have had a good start to the year excluding this,” said EBB managing director Matthew Elliott. “If you add it all together and take off the VAT it comes in at just below £1.2m.”
Paper maker Stora Enso was the second-biggest creditor, owed £947,000.
Mario di Lieto, managing director of Stora Enso Lumipaper, added: “It’s unfortunate. A year previously you couldn’t have predicted this would happen – the decline was rapid. We knew we were a major supplier with all the responsibility that brings.”
Unusually, there are also some negative amounts on the creditors' list, including minus £225,484 in respect of St Ives. St Ives has not commented.
There are no funds available to pay preferential claims from employees who were owed circa £180,000 in wage arrears, holiday pay and pension contributions. HMRC was owed £598,753.
At the end of December 2016 the £36.5m-turnover, 315-employee business had just £39,000 in the bank, according to the management accounts. In the three months of trading to 27 March it made an EBIT loss of £444,248 on sales of £6.8m, while gross margins fell from 36% to 31.5% as Anton desperately tried to bring in sales by cutting its prices.
Net assets declined from £4.6m in 2015 to £1.5m at the time of administration.
Deloitte said its time costs for handling the administration would not exceed £1,195,744, and it did not expect to draw that amount in full.
It appears that former shareholders of Anton Group are also likely to be out of pocket, although their situation is not clear.
The original shareholders in the business sold their shares to the Anton Employee Trust in 2014 for £14.3m, of which £3.14m was paid that year. The Anton Group accounts for 2015 state that the business was seeking to revise the Share Purchase Agreement to reduce the overall purchase price, as well as changing the trading terms upon which future payments would be made. The outcome of these negotiations was unknown at the time of writing.