Page last updated at 07:06 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 08:06 UK

The Profits of Gloom

By Jason Gwynne
BBC Money Programme

Beneficiaries of the gloomy times
For some, a recession means money in the bank

Despite the credit crunch, increasing inflation and falling house prices, some businesses are reporting record profits.

Pawnbrokers, bailiffs, company liquidators and discount retailers are recording bulging order books and soaring profits.

The boss of Ryanair says the slump is actually good for his business.

Gold in the gloom

The credit crunch means that for some people, loans are harder to get and consequently people are turning to pawnbrokers instead.

Pawn broking has a long history. Its roots go back to ancient China, while the symbol of the trade - three gold balls - was part of the Medici family crest in 15th-Century Italy.

A pledge is an item of value, used as security against a loan
Pawnbroker exchanges cash from 50 to 1m
Pawnbrokers require proof of identity to set up a loan
Typically lend up to a third of an item's loan value
Items can be redeemed at any time, but loan term is usually six months
Interest rate is typically 3-6% a month
If an item is not redeemed, the pawnbroker may sell the pledge. Any profits are returned to the owner once costs have been deducted.

Source: TM Sutton, Pawnbrokers

Business has grown for the UK's 540 pawnbrokers including Suttons in London's, Victoria. It was founded in 1770.

Suttons charges clients an industry average of 6% a month for loans under 1000.

A bank loan is cheaper but they don't usually lend such small amounts. It's only if you don't repay the loan within 6 months that you risk losing your secured item.

This year Sutton's pre-tax profits were 1.5 million, up 50% on last year, which is great news for chief pawnbroker Jim Tannahill.

"We're busier without a doubt," he says.

"I assume because people can't borrow in the way they would traditionally do it, they look for other avenues and we're one of those avenues."

Bargains galore

It's not just businesses that rely on others' financial hardships that are making money. Businesses that offer cut price versions of popular services can also be well placed to ride out rough times.

While some high street shops have reported a downturn in profits, one retail sector is growing: the bargain shop.

Primark, Lidl and Poundland have all reported substantial growth and one, Home Bargains, says its profits rose by 20% in the last quarter.

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Home Bargains is based near Liverpool.

Its business model is to sell end of line goods and overstocked lines from manufacturers cheaply and quickly.

"Well it's tough on retail there are a lot of companies going bust, there's a lot of retail property coming available," Joe Morris, operations director says.

"We see that as a great opportunity.

"We are cash rich so if opportunities come along we can take them quickly and we can react quickly."

Home Bargains employs some 4,000 staff and its business is growing.

It is building a second depot for 35m and taking on an extra 950 staff - all part of a plan to extend the chain of 160 shops.

"The plans really are for us to grow to be a national retailer," Mr Morris says. "At the moment we're a regional retailer, but our goal is to cover the whole of the UK so we get up to 600 stores."

Let's get this party started

Since emerging from recession in 1992, Britain's economy has enjoyed the longest period of expansion on record.

Whether we are living in good times or bad, we can make money from the stock market

Economist Vanessa Rossi feels it's important to focus on how we pull ourselves out of a downturn and these companies are important because they help to kick-start the economy again.

"It's a little bit like having a party," Ms Rossi says. "Basically its great fun whilst it lasts.

"Unfortunately, slowdowns do occur and if they turn into rather nasty affairs then the cleaning up process needs to start.

"You've got your hangover from the party but then you move ahead again and you move out of it and in a couple of years time we'll be back to partying."

Up, Up and Away!

For some, an economic hangover is a time to be bold and aggressive.

Michael O' Leary, boss of Ryanair, Europe's largest budget airline, claims that recession is actually good for his business.

"I love recessions," he says.

"Recessions are much more fun. Good times are a pain in the bum. Good times, any idiot can make money.

"In recessions, the good get up off their backsides and start doing the kind of sensible things that they should do all of the time. It's good for business.

"Ryanair will emerge from this recession stronger, fitter, leaner, and still taking lumps off our competitors."

Ryanair's profits in 2007 rose 20.5%. But despite record profits, Mr O'Leary acknowledges that the high cost of oil, which has risen by over 500% in the last five years, and the economic climate mean tough times ahead.

"It means we're going to have to reduce our costs this year," he says.

"We've in recent weeks announced a pay freeze, we've announced some redundancies, we're renegotiating a lot of our supplier contracts - all the good sensible things you do during a recession or a downturn, and we're doing them now."

For Ryanair, a recession doesn't mean abandoning forward planning.

It is planning to expand capacity by 20% this year. And the falling cost of planes brought about by the worldwide slump provides the perfect opportunity to do this.

"The only time to buy aircraft is during the pits of a recession, you know when other airlines have gone bust and aircraft are parked in the desert and Boeing and Airbus can't give them away.

"That's the time to buy planes.

"Ryanair's been fortunate in that we've had lots of cash during the last two big downturns. Our largest aircraft order was placed just three months after 9/11. So we would welcome a deep and difficult recession for a couple of years because that would reduce aircraft prices."

So if you think we're all in for a tough time as the slump deepens, then think again.

Because for some, things have never been better.

The Money Programme: The Profits of Gloom, BBC 2 at 19.00 - 19.30, Friday 6 June 2008.


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