Noble shares plunge 9.8% in big sell-off on negative sentiment

Noble shares fell to 12.9 cents, their lowest point this year. Some shareholders were irked by a move by management to consolidate shares, but the motion was passed with 99.73 per cent approval. The share consolidation will take effect on May 9.
Noble shares fell to 12.9 cents, their lowest point this year. Some shareholders were irked by a move by management to consolidate shares, but the motion was passed with 99.73 per cent approval. The share consolidation will take effect on May 9.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

179 million shares done in furious selling on first trading day after AGM

Noble Group was hit by a big sell-off yesterday, as market confidence sank further despite assurances of a long-term turnaround given at last Friday's annual general meeting.

Instead, some shareholders were irked by a move by management to consolidate shares.

Noble shares plunged 9.79 per cent or 1.4 cents yesterday to their lowest point so far this year at 12.9 cents on 179.17 million shares done.

The furious selling came on the first trading day after the AGM, where founder and chairman Richard Elman urged shareholders to be patient as the ailing commodity firm may need several years to recover.

"Many of my colleagues here are deeply involved and they're suffering as much as everybody," Mr Elman told about 340 shareholders attending the meeting.

"Obviously we want to make it better for everybody and that's what we're in the process of doing… Let's look forward to see what we can do in the next couple of years."

Allegations of accounting manipulation, persistent debt issues and losses amid weak commodity prices have hounded Noble for many months.

The counter hit its lowest since the early 2000s at 11.2 cents in September last year.

The Singapore Exchange-listed company reported a full-year net profit of US$8.7 million (S$12 million), after a US$1.67 billion loss in 2015 when the company suffered large impairment on supply-chain assets and poor performance of joint ventures.

Since then Noble has sold assets to reduce debt, cut staff to save costs and raised funds to ease financing needs.

More recently, it was able to issue US$750 million of five-year senior notes in March, which Deutsche Bank analysts viewed positively.

At the AGM, Noble's management reiterated the progress it has made, pointing to a drop in the net debt-to-capital ratio to 42 per cent from 55 per cent at the end of 2015. Over the 12 months the company's headcount also dropped, from 1,525 to 1,050 staff.

Alongside the AGM, a special general meeting (SGM) was held to seek approval for a 10-to-one share consolidation. Some shareholders found this hard to accept even if the company is heading towards a recovery, long-time shareholder Mano Sabnani said.

"Share consolidations will destroy share value, as it often does on the Singapore Exchange. It also pushes out the minority shareholders as their holding is shrunk," he told The Straits Times.

Share consolidations are usually done to push up the price of a stock, but shareholders will benefit only if the elevated price level is sustained afterwards.

A number of shareholders walked out of the SGM in protest against the motion, which was passed with a 99.73 per cent approval.

The share consolidation will take effect on May 9.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Noble shares plunge 9.8% in big sell-off on negative sentiment'. Print Edition | Subscribe