The UK is one of the three worst offenders among industrial countries, along with the USA and Italy, for having companies with high default rates, finds Export credit insurer Coface.

Late payment is expected to worsen this year as the world economy slows down.

It finds 2000 was a mixed year with a very good first half, followed by a noticeable weaker second half.

Payment improved in most of the emerging or developing economies.

Countries with low default rates include France, Austria and Germany (excluding construction).

Signs of slower growth appeared at the end of the year, a trend which is likely to continue in most countries this year.

The main sectors that could face a noticeable slowdown include new technologies such as personal computers, mobile telephones, telecommunications and electronic components manufacturing.

The outlook for 2001 is said to be clouded by questions concerning the US business slowdown, oil prices, the strength of the euro, stabilisation of stock prices and weaknesses in some emerging economies.

More information can be found on the company's website at coface.com.