Why It Matters

Noble's bid to silence sceptics

Noble has been mired in allegations of accounting fraud and poor governance since February.
Noble has been mired in allegations of accounting fraud and poor governance since February. PHOTO: REUTERS

When Singapore-listed Noble Group unveils its second-quarter results next Monday, the commodity trading giant will come under more scrutiny than ever in its long war against critics.

Noble has been mired in allegations of accounting fraud and poor governance since February, following reports by an anonymous outfit called Iceberg Research. Its share price plunged more than 50 per cent amid a serious erosion of public confidence and furious short-selling.

Noble's management no doubt hopes it can silence the sceptics once and for all on Monday, in releasing what it has flagged as a "satisfactory" set of figures. Crucially, the firm will also offer more information on some of the areas Iceberg has focused on. Findings of a PwC review on its contentious mark-to-market business model - a way of valuing assets - will also be presented.

If Noble can properly address the concerns, it may finally draw a line under the prolonged stock market drama that has captured global headlines.

But the guiding principle is unchanged: Companies should always stay on the front foot in maintaining public trust. That entails timely, proper disclosure on issues under the spotlight, even if it means sharing more information than usual.

One reason Noble shares tumbled so badly was that management - fronted by founder and chairman Richard Elman and chief executive Yusuf Alireza - was often a step behind in responding to criticism, which they seem to take as a personal affront. And when Noble did respond, the information was often in bits and pieces, insufficient to fully address the concerns raised.

Worse, at Noble's annual general meeting in April, Mr Elman further irked the public by refusing to entertain questions that might have dispelled investors' concerns.

The main argument has been that it could not risk losing its competitive edge by sharing too much internal information. That may well be true.

But as Noble now attempts its most open interaction with the public yet, it would seem that perhaps it should have done this earlier to avoid the extensive damage inflicted on its shareholder value.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline 'Noble's bid to silence sceptics'. Print Edition | Subscribe