Noble Group, Asia’s biggest commodity trader by sales, has rebuffed an attack on its accounting practices by an unknown research group, saying it “completely rejects” allegations that it exploits accounting practices to fabricate profits.
The allegations, which initially sent Singapore-listed Noble’s shares down as much as 10 per cent on Monday, were made by Iceberg Research in a 17-page report.
Iceberg accused Hong Kong-headquartered Noble of exploiting the accounting treatment of its associates “to avoid large impairments and fabricate profit”.
Noble said in a statement to the Singapore exchange: “The company completely rejects the allegations. All material information to which Iceberg Research refers is in the public domain. There has been no material adverse change since the company last reported.”
Noble added that it “reserves its rights against Iceberg Research”.
An entity calling itself Iceberg Research posted the report on Twitter on Monday, adding later: “We confirm that at this point we have no short interest in Noble Group (directly or indirectly).”
When contacted by the Financial Times, Iceberg Research said it wished to maintain its anonymity, but added: “We may give more information on us later on but we would like people to focus on the strength of the arguments for the moment.
“To make it very clear, we do not make any money from this (at any level). If this changes, we will advise the market.”
It was the second time in three years that a Singapore-listed commodities company has come under attack from a research group. In late 2012 Olam, a cashews-to-coffee group, came under fire over accounting practices and ballooning debt from Muddy Waters, a US-based shortseller.
In Olam’s case, the knock to shares proved brief. The company rejected the criticism, and conducted a capital raising exercise that helped push shares higher.
Olam, Noble and a third Singapore-listed commodities group, Wilmar, are widely considered to be Asia’s rivals to longer-established western businesses Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge.
Noble mines, ships and finances supplies of iron ore, coal and agricultural commodities including grains, sugar, palm oil and coffee.
It is a minority shareholder in Yancoal, the Australian subsidiary of Yanzhou Coal Mining, China’s largest coal company and owner of seven mines in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland.
Among Iceberg’s allegations is that Noble overvalued on its balance sheet its holding in Yancoal by classifying it as an associate, rather than as a long-term investment, and then applying a valuation method based on “stratospheric” cash flow projections rather than cost of acquisition.
“Noble Group has a remarkable ability to spot accounting loopholes. One of them is the accounting of associates,” said Iceberg’s report.
The move by Iceberg was one of two attacks on Asia-listed companies on the same day. The other came from Glaucus Research, a shortseller, which issued a “strong sell” rating against Hong Kong-listed Ozner Water International.
Ozner shares fell 20 per cent on Monday before being suspended.
Glaucus accused Ozner — a water purification company that went public last summer and which had a market capitalisation of HK$5.8bn (US$748m) before Monday’s move — of making “false and misleading representations and disclosures to the market regarding its financial and operational performance”.
Ozner said it was consulting its legal advisers before responding to the Glaucus report.
Additional reporting by Josh Noble in Hong Kong
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