Noble AGM: All resolutions passed although some shareholders still unhappy

Noble Group's annual general meeting (AGM) ended on Thursday (April 14) with all resolutions passed, but some shareholders remained unhappy.
Noble Group's annual general meeting (AGM) ended on Thursday (April 14) with all resolutions passed, but some shareholders remained unhappy. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Noble Group's annual general meeting (AGM) ended on Thursday (April 14) in a largely uneventful session that saw all resolutions passed, but some shareholders remained unhappy over perceived issues of transparency and company financials.

Around 390 shareholders attended the AGM held at Suntec Convention Centre and several questioned whether the commodity firm's thin margin is making the business unsustainable amid high credit cost and plunging commodity prices.

Long-time shareholder and activist investor Mano Sabnani asked how Noble plans to cut its debt level, while several others queried the basis of Noble's fair value model.

These questions have dogged Noble for a year, due partly to persistent allegations by Iceberg Research that Noble had used aggressive fair value estimates on its balance sheet to cover up debt and liquidity issues.

At the AGM, chief executive officer Yusuf Alireza again sought to allay such concerns, telling investors that Noble is on the right track despite severe market headwinds.

The company will have some US$4.6 billion of potential liquidity - from sources such as the proceeds of selling Noble Agri and the refinancing of revolving credit facilities - to cover the US$3.2 billion in debt due by the end of 2017, he said.

The priorities last year to generate cash, reduce debt and manage costs were all met, Mr Alireza added, as Noble also moved to cut headcounts while shifting focus away from metals and mining to the more profitable energy business.

Meanwhile, Noble had revealed sufficient amount of information on its fair value model last year and the model has been well scrutinised by auditors, chief financial officer Paul Jackaman stressed at the AGM.

Still, not all were satisfied with the answers, and voting was blocked at one point as Mr Sabnani felt he could not vote after Noble chairman Richard Elman blocked his questions.

Accountant Fred Tan, 66, told The Straits Times that he was unhappy with what he said was the lack of transparency that left regular shareholders in the dark about Noble's complex business.

But others were more positive. A shareholder, who wanted to be known only as John, 27, said the AGM was a more open session compared with last year, and he's still keen to learn more about the company's business model.

Others urged Noble's management to stay focused and not get distracted by the negative buzz around the company.

In the end, all 15 resolutions were passed, including the one to reelect Mr Elman as director.