Chamber of Commerce chair: State's signals to entrepreneurs too optimistic

Toomas Luman on
Toomas Luman on "Esimene stuudio." Source: ERR

The state should not be sending too optimistic of signals to entrepreneurs indicating that they can support everyone, as that can lead to entrepreneurs ending up in a wait-and-see position, Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman and construction businessman Toomas Luman said on an appearance on ETV's "Esimene stuudio" on Thursday night.

Regarding the state's crisis measures, Lukman said that not all businesses that have come into hard times have done so because of the coronavirus crisis.

"There are also those that were having difficulties before already," he noted. "If the government helps anyone, it should first look at whether there weren't any wrong decisions made [by the business] before already; that it didn't end up facing problem for reasons other than the coronavirus crisis."

According to the chamber chairman, businesses will certainly come out of the other side of the crisis as more efficient than they were prior to it, but the state itself should stimulate efforts to increase efficiency, something that certainly won't be done as loans are handed out.

"If the state would like to do something quickly, then I would significantly reduce the volume of Kredex's direct loans and increase the volume of Kredex sureties and guarantees accordingly," he said. "Kredex could support Estonian companies' problematic loans at significantly higher volumes, so that banks would not recall these loans, so companies could restructure themselves, become more efficient, so that they'd be capable of serving these loans."

Luman added that the state needs to realize that all of the loans being handed out will not be repaid 100 percent. "If there were a guarantee that they would be repaid 100 percent, then banks could handle this work, as they aren't exactly lacking in money right now," he said.

Wrong to assume things will be fine by fall

The chamber chairman believes that those who hope that the crisis will have passed by fall are too optimistic.

"People's behavioral habits have changed significantly, people's movements are restricted, the movement of goods is restricted, and consumption has reduced," he highlighted. "Let's look at fuels sales, car sales figures. People's security has decreased so much. To assume that this crisis will pass and everything will be fine by fall is completely wrong."

Not a single country will be able to pay for the economic damages incurred, he said.

"As we reached 116,000 unemployed at the height of the last crisis, then I believed that we'd reach that point in 9 to 12 months in this crisis as well, but some analysts in the financial sector are convinced that we will reach this figure in some six months," Luman said, adding that Estonia will most likely see some 100,000 registered unemployed by October.

He finds that it isn't reasonable to divide up businesses by sector or type  and thereafter decide whom the state should support, and added that supporting very large and very small companies should be avoided.

"I said during the last crisis as well that the government should not be involved in very big ones, because it lacks sufficient resources to do so, and it should not be involved in very small ones, because they are generally very flexible and the state is not capable of managing their problems," he said.

Luman believes that the state has likely given too optimistic of signals to entrepreneurs that they are capable of helping everyone, and this has resulted in part of the economy becoming passive as they wait and see.

"This has perhaps led to at least some entrepreneurs ending up in a wait-and-see position," he said. "Knowledge has changed significantly since March 12, when the emergency situation was declared. I believe that positions based on the latest information must be conveyed to entrepreneurs as well. The state functions based on tax revenues, and economy-generated revenues account for one third. If the law dictates to an extent of 85 percent how the state should spend this, then just 15 percent of this third is up to the state, or, broadly speaking, just 5 percent of the size of the economy."

He acknowledged that the state can borrow more money, but it cannot do so forever, and it cannot cover €25 billion in value added from cash flows from the State Treasury. "That is a fact," he added.

As a construction businessman, Luman noted that crises usually reach construction later than elsewhere, which is why the construction sector is never a good indicator of a crisis' effect on the economy.

"I believe that the peak for the construction sector will be sometime during 2022, or some year and a half from now," he said. "If businesses manage to maintain their level of orders, that is very good. Increasing the number of orders is an unachievable goal."

The construction sector, he added, will have to take a 30-40 percent drop and a decrease in private-sector orders by more than half into account.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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