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Commodity trader Noble Group posted a small profit for 2016, avoiding a second annual loss as it tries to attract a strategic investor to cap its restructuring.

The Singapore-listed trading house, which has been hammered by two years of attacks on its accounting during a commodity slump, posted an adjusted net profit of $8.2m last year, following a loss of $1.7bn in 2015.

Revenues declined 30 per cent to $46.5bn following the sale of its agricultural business as part of its cash-raising efforts.

“Although we have more work to do, we look forward to 2017 with confidence, as we complete the repositioning of the group,” the company’s co-chief executive officers Jeff Frase and William Randall said in a statement.

Noble, once the largest independent commodity trader in Asia, has been battered by a savage downturn in commodity markets and persistent concerns about its accounting.

In order to survive the company has been forced to shrink its business, exiting loss-making and non-core operations. Headcount was reduced by 30 per cent to 1,050 over the year, the company said on Monday.

Noble has also been furiously paying down debt, raising $500m in an emergency rights issue last year and selling its North American retail power unit.

The company said it has increased its so-called liquidity headroom – a key measurement for rating agencies in assessing the credit worthiness of a trading company – to over $2bn.

The cost cutting measures and efforts to preserve capital have taken a toll, however, with Noble’s oil business seeing a 60 per cent decline in operating income from supply chains, the results showed.

Noble said the business had to “operate well below optimal earnings’ capacity” in 2016 due to its “conservative approach to liquidity management”.

Iceberg Research, which first raised concerns about Noble’s accounting two years ago, including how it treated profits on long-term commodity contracts, repeated its attack on Friday. Noble Group’s shares fell 17 per cent slump after Iceberg questioned whether Noble would be able to attract a strategic investor, which the company has been hunting for since at least last year to try strengthen its position.

Noble has robustly defended its accounting practices saying they follow international standards. The company has dismissed Iceberg as the work of a disgruntled former employee, who it has taken legal action against.

After the results on Monday Noble’s shares were up 2.2 per cent at S$0.23.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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