‘Zombie’ firms dragging down productivity: Deloitte

By The Canadian Press | September 18, 2018 | Last updated on September 18, 2018
2 min read
Toronto skyline in financial district
© Elijah Lovkoff / 123RF Stock Photo

There is a concerning number of so-called zombie firms that are plaguing Canadian productivity, according to a new report from Deloitte.

About 16% of Canadian public companies fall into the category of zombie firms established by the OECD—more than 10 years old but unable to earn enough to cover interest payments on debt.

The Canadian firms, numbering at least 350 from Deloitte’s findings, divert resources away from more productive and dynamic enterprises and diminish opportunities for growth, said Duncan Sinclair, chair of Deloitte Canada and Chile.

“That’s tied up $130 billion in capital—and even more importantly tied up people—that might otherwise be deployed into organizations that have more momentum, more growth, more capacity to assert themselves as global leaders.”

The issue is especially concerning in Canada, where the number of such companies stands 60% higher than the global average of 10%, and shows Canadian firms are vulnerable to economic shocks and technological disruption.

The consultancy did not specify which sectors were most affected, though Sinclair said more capital intensive businesses run a higher risk of falling into the situation over time.

The issue comes as part of a wider challenge of aging businesses in Canada as the global economy requires nimble enterprises to respond to changing market dynamics. More than 40% of Canadian businesses are 15 years or older, up from just over 30% a decade ago, said Deloitte.

“We do have an issue of, relative to other major countries in the world, a larger percentage of our companies that are sort of lagging,” Sinclair said.

While many older businesses thrive, a significant number show issues of profitability. Deloitte found 44% of firms aged 10 years or older had stagnant or negative three-year revenue growth rates between 2009 and 2016.

Deloitte lays out five key criteria companies need to pursue to remain successful, such as disrupting with resilience and pursing tough decisions.

The firm found Canadian businesses most lagged in the need for asserting global leadership through exports and exploring opportunities abroad. It found just 13 of the 700 Canadian firms surveyed as embodying the ethos.

Companies need to see that competition is going global and they need to respond, said Sinclair.

The Canadian Press logo

The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto and founded in 1917.