Noble Group, Iceberg Research, EY – Who Do We Trust?

Noble Group (CGP:SGX), has been listed on SGX Mainboard since on 14 March 1997. Once a Straits Times Index component stock, Noble was removed from the index and replaced by CapitaLand Commercial Trust since 21 Mar 2016.

According to SGX StockFacts, the adjusted share price of Noble Group in June 2014 was in the range of S$14+/-. Noble Group is now traded at the range of S$0.40~$0.60 in Aug 2017.

Noble Group (CGP:SGX) recent share price
Noble Group (CGP:SGX) recent share price. Screen Cap from SGX StockFacts.

 

Iceberg Research, a anomynous blogger with the tagline of ‘Revealing financial manipulation and accounting frauds‘ targetted Noble Group and described it as ‘Repeat of ENRON’ in their 3rd article published on a March 2015 article (see https://iceberg-research.com/2015/03/21/third-report-on-noble-group-a-repeat-of-enron-governance-debt-and-liquidity-headroom/). Several articles was published subsequently.

 

Who is Noble Group?

According to Noble Group‘s website (http://thisisnoble.com/about-noble.html) –

Noble Group (SGX: CGP) is a leading supply chain manager: we buy physical commodities and transform them into customised, consumable products that meet the requirements of our customers through (1) our logistics and transportation services (2) our price risk management and hedging services (3) our processing and blending capabilities and (4) our structured and trade financing solutions.

According to SGX website > Corporate Information (http://www.sgx.com/wps/portal/sgxweb/home/company_disclosure/corporate%20information )-

Noble Group Limited (SGX: NOBL) was incorporated in Bermuda in 1994. The Group manages the global supply chain of agricultural, industrial and energy products. Noble operates a diversified portfolio of raw materials from over 80 offices in more than 40 countries, originating product from low cost producing countries and delivering to high growth demand markets – its “pipeline” strategy. An experienced team of 10,000 employees serve more than 4,000 customers.

According to SGX StockFacts (http://www.sgx.com/wps/portal/sgxweb/home/company_disclosure/stockfacts?page=1&code=CGP&lang=en-us) –

Noble Group Limited, an investment holding company, provides supply chain management services for a range of industrial and energy products to commercial and industrial customers worldwide. The company operates through four segments: Energy; Gas & Power; Mining & Metals; and Corporate. The Energy segment trades in energy coal and provides supply chain and risk management services on bituminous and sub-bituminous energy coal; and trades in oil liquids comprising crude oil, distillates, gasoline, naphtha, ethanol, and other refined products. The Gas & Power segment trades in and provides supply chain management services on gas, liquid natural gas, power, and input coal; and offers supply and risk management services to retail customers on power and gas. The Mining & Metals segment trades in and provides supply chain management services on aluminum, alumina and bauxite, copper, zinc, lead, nickel, and raw materials; and trades in and provides price risk management, hedging, and logistics services on iron ore, met coal, met coke, and specialty ores and alloys. The Corporate segment provides ocean transport in the dry bulk segment, and grains; long term freight solutions; and freight market guidance services. Noble Group Limited was founded in 1987 and is headquartered in Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

 

Note that SGX StockFacts labeled Noble Group as ‘Investment Holding company‘ while Noble Group says they ‘Buy physical commodities and transform them into customised product. ‘

According to IRAS website (https://www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/Businesses/Companies/Working-out-Corporate-Income-Taxes/Specific-industries/Investment-Holding-Companies/) –

An investment holding company refers to a company that owns investments such as properties and shares for long term investment and derives investment income (“non-trade income”) such as dividend, interest or rental income. The company’s principal activity is that of investment holding.

An investment holding company is different from an investment dealing company. An investment dealing company refers to a company that owns investments such as properties and shares as a form of trading stock to derive trade income from the purchase and sale of these investments, e.g. gain on sale of real properties and shares. Unlike an investment holding company, the company’s principal activity is that of investment dealing.

 

SGX.Observer is not sure about the significance of whether Noble Group is categories as ‘Investment Holding’ company.

SGX.Observer is too far away from the boundary of commodities supply chain industry, hence it would be difficult for SGX.Observer to understand the actual business activities involved by Noble Group.

Also, Noble Group was ‘founded in 1987 and is headquartered in Hong Kong’, then ‘incorporated in Bermuda in 1994’, and subsequently chose to be ‘listed in Singapore in 1997’. Why Bermuda? Why not incorporate in Singapore since the intention was to get listed in Singapore? Does it make any difference?

 

SGX.Observer is not an accountant, not a tax expert, not an industry insider, but just a layman investor. Basic information and insignificant points as such are already confusing enough to a layman.

 

 

Who should be blamed improve?

Following the recent collapse of Noble Group’s share price, Iceberg Research pointed the arrows to MAS & SGX in article title ‘NOBLE GROUP IS SINKING. THIS SAGA REVEALS THE COMPLETE FAILURE OF THE REGULATORS IN SINGAPORE’ published on 3 Aug 2017. (https://iceberg-research.com/2017/08/03/noble-group-is-sinking-this-saga-reveals-the-complete-failure-of-the-regulators-in-singapore/).

SGX responded via The Straits Times with 2 key points ( http://www.straitstimes.com/business/sgx-refutes-icebergs-attacks-over-handling-of-noble) –

  1. “whether to believe the words of an anonymous blogger or the considered opinions of reputable international audit firms” since “Noble’s financial statements for 2015 and last year received clean audit opinions from Ernst & Young (E&Y), one of the Big Four accounting firms.”

  2. “Some of them are serving their own interests, especially by shorting the stock first and thereafter publishing negative reports.”

 

SGX.Observer agreed on these 2 points. While SGX seems to have diverted the gunpoint to E&Y, E&Y would probably declare that the audit was executed according to the accounting standard procedures by quoting the well defined valuation methodologies, recommended best practises, etc, etc, if they ever bother to respond……  then, chapter closed.

 

However, from the layman’s perspective,

  • if the accusation is not done anonymously, the episode could have ended earlier, with the author being sued for defamation or disclosing insider info using whatever clauses applicable?
  • No one else would be able to comment since little information can be obtained and understood by outsiders who are not in such unique industry (investment holdings on commodities? supply chain services that buy commodities? trade financing solutions operated in Bermuda?). ‘A SGX listed company that trades commodities’ is probably the best answer when a layman investor being asked ‘What do you know about Noble Group’s business’.
  • Accounting standard methodologies, procedures, etc are not unbreakable. ‘Experts’ who can manoeuvre well among the tiny cracks of these methodologies, procedures, or such, are always the winners.

On the point about serving own interests,

  • Investors or trades buy stock with the believe of the stock is undervalued, or potential of the stock to grow further.  Investors or trades choose to short sell the stock with the believe of the stock is overvalued. In the open and fair market, it is up to the investors to interprete the information, just the same way as the press release articles and announcements published by the list companies. (The chances of being fooled by press release articles from certain listed companies, could be more.) Aren’t listed companies issue press release announcements to serve their own interests too?

 

 

There is really nothing much a layman investor can do about it, except following the crowd.

Nevertheless, Noble Group – the once a blue chip stocks, tumbled only after 20 years of SGX listing .

 

 

 

 

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