Think long-term, Noble chairman urges shareholders

Talk is cheap, says Mr Elman, hitting out at Noble's critics. "It's coming up with strategies and implementing them that's hard - and that should be left to the ones who have their boots on the ground," says the company's chairman.
Talk is cheap, says Mr Elman, hitting out at Noble's critics. "It's coming up with strategies and implementing them that's hard - and that should be left to the ones who have their boots on the ground," says the company's chairman.PHOTO: REUTERS

Commodity trader more nimble now and all 'will be better off in a decade or two'

Noble Group has emerged from the harsh market conditions last year as a more nimble company poised for future growth, according to company executives.

The upbeat comments came in the embattled commodity company's 2015 annual report released yesterday, but there were warnings as well.

The report noted that the firm is facing persistent uncertainties and company founder and chairman Richard Elman could only urge shareholders to think long-term.

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," he said, using the phrase made famous by Britain's war-time prime minister Winston Churchill. "I don't know how all the different factors will play out - nor does anyone else.

"What I can predict is that the world's population will continue to grow, and the growing population will need more commodities.

GROWTH PREDICTION

I don't know how all the different factors will play out... What I can predict is that the world's population will continue to grow, and the growing population will need more commodities.

MR RICHARD ELMAN, Noble Group's chairman.

"In a decade or two, we will all be better off. In the meantime, we have to be smaller and we have to be more nimble."

Noble endured a very challenging year in 2015 when plunging commodity prices crippled its performance amid allegations of accounting and governance issues from critics such as Iceberg Research.

The firm suffered a net loss of US$1.67 billion (S$2.3 billion) last year, compared to a net profit of US$132 million in 2014.

The loss was due partly to exceptional impairments made to account for weak coal prices.

In the annual report, chief executive Yusuf Alireza gave no promises of a quick turnaround, but stressed that last year's moves, including selling its Noble Agri stake and reallocating capital and resources to growth areas, have put Noble on the right track.

"We believe that the move to an asset-light model places us in a position from which we are able to dictate our own direction, rather than bobbing along on the tides of the commodity price cycle," Mr Alireza said.

The annual report made no mention of Iceberg Research and did not highlight how Noble plans to further improve its business transparency in response to critics.

Instead, Mr Elman shrugged off the negative sentiment surrounding the company, saying: "Critics should always be aware that talk is cheap. It's coming up with strategies and implementing them that's hard - and that should be left to the ones who have their boots on the ground."

Noble shares closed up two cents or 4.44 per cent at 47 cents after the annual report was released.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Think long-term, Noble chairman urges shareholders'. Print Edition | Subscribe