Common Danger Signals of Company Decline

Previously, we have examined the internal and external elements of decline and some of the early warning signals of each. Notably, we have made the distinction that, while internal elements are easier to control, external elements are capable of being influenced as well. It is the responsibility of the executive team to coordinate marketing and sales, operations and finance in such a way as to anticipate changes in the environment and plan accordingly.

The clear danger signals of decline vary with the stages of decline, and become more serious as the decline intensifies. Some of the common danger signals are as follows:

Common Danger Signals

Early Decline:

  • shortage of cash
  • strained liquidity
  • reduced working capital
  • stretched accounts payable
  • late accounts receivable
  • reduction of return-on-investment (ROI) by 20-30 percent
  • flat sales
  • several quarters of losses
  • increased employee absenteeism
  • increased employee accidents
  • increased customer complaints (product quality, delivery)
  • late financial and management information

Mid-Term Decline:

  • increasing inventory
  • decreasing sales
  • decreasing margins
  • increased expenses
  • increased advances from banks
  • requests for additional considerations from banks
  • late and unreliable financial and management information
  • erosion of customer confidence
  • accelerated accounts payable from vendors
  • overdrafts at the bank
  • delayed accounts receivable from opportunistic customers
  • violation of loan covenants
  • bank used to cover payroll
  • increased interest rates on indebtedness from banks due to increased perception of risk

Late Decline:

  • little attention  paid to profit decrease
  • staff cutbacks without analyzing cause of problems
  • overdrawn bank accounts as substitute for line of credit
  • cash crisis
  • accounts payable 60-90 days late
  • accounts receivable 90+ days late
  • further decline in sales
  • extremely low employee morale
  • eroding company credibility
  • excessive decreased inventory turnover
  • supplier restrictions
  • fewer reports to bank
  • qualified opinion from auditor
  • bounced checks
  • cutoff on supplies
  • credit offsets
  • accounts receivable continuing to age
  • further decrease in margins
  • further decrease in volume of sales
  • increase in uncollectible receivables
  • no liquidity
  • depleted working capital
  • lack of funds for payroll
  • ineffective management
  • attempts to convince creditors that company is viable and that liquidation is not necessary

Signals That Can Occur At Any Stage:

  • decreased capital utilization
  • decreased market share in key product line(s)
  • increased overhead costs
  • increased management and employee turnover
  • salaries/benefits growing faster than productivity/profits
  • increased management layers
  • lost market share to competition, which is not keeping up with marketplace changes
  • management in conflict with corporate goals and objectives
  • opposing directions for company and management
  • sales forecasts that predict that company can sell its way out of difficulty
  • poor internal accounting
  • credit advances to customers who do not pay on time
  • non-seasonal borrowing
  • sudden overdrafts
  • increased trade credit inquiries (a signal that new vendors are being sought out)

Not all of these symptoms may appear; it is sufficient cause for self-examination if some of them occur. As the problems of the business increase, its reputation with suppliers, banks, current customers, and other stakeholders is severely diminished. A credibility gap may occur, placing the business in the position of having to defend itself not just from internal and external factors, but also from a loss of esteem in the business community. Credibility is a key factor to the success of a business. Just as a company’s credibility within the commercial and banking community can ensure its success, a lack of credibility can just as surely cause its demise.


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