Ezion a likely short-sell target, data shows

Large spike in number of offshore logistics firm's shares out on loan in past 12 months

Ezion is on the "buy" list of many research houses here for its growing exposure to the lift-boat business. The boats are only starting to gain in popularity in South-east Asia.
Ezion is on the "buy" list of many research houses here for its growing exposure to the lift-boat business. The boats are only starting to gain in popularity in South-east Asia.PHOTO: EZION HOLDINGS

Short-sellers are training their sights on yet another counter in the offshore sector - analysts' darling Ezion Holdings.

Data furnished by financial information provider Markit shows that short-sellers have been slowly amassing a big position in Ezion in the past 12 months.

The percentage of the firm's outstanding shares out on loan spiked from 3.43 per cent in August last year to 8.6 per cent, as of last week.

This makes Ezion the most "shorted" counter on the Singapore Exchange after beleaguered Noble Group, which has 9.24 per cent of its outstanding shares on loan.

A trader who wants to "short-sell" a stock in the hope of buying it back later at a lower price to make a profit must first borrow the shares via the securities lending market to sell them.

While the motivation for borrowing shares may not always be related to short-selling, most investors view the percentage of shares out on loan as a reliable proxy for "short" positions taken by traders.

Still, Ezion makes a surprising target for short-sellers as it is on the "buy" list of many research houses here which have been trying to draw investors' attention to its growing exposure to the lift-boat business.

Lift-boats are jack-up vessels with a large open deck capable of carrying equipment and supplies. They can lift their hulls out of the water and stand on their own legs so as to provide a stable platform in order to do maintenance and construction work for offshore oil platforms.

They are widely used in other oil-producing regions such as the Gulf of Mexico, but are only beginning to gain popularity in South-east Asia, boosting business for lift-boat owners such as Ezion.

Analysts also hope that as lift-boats are used in supporting offshore oil production, the risk of contract cancellation will be lower even if oil prices continue to plummet.

Maybank Kim Eng analyst Yeak Chee Keong, for example, had argued in a report last week that Ezion's depressed valuations of 0.7 times price-to-book value were unjustified, given its exposure to the more defensive lift-boat business.

Despite the high approval ratings they have given to Ezion, its share price has fallen about 54.5 per cent since August last year, translating into a $1.54 billion loss in market value.

But short-sellers are not buying the spin by analysts, given the hit which even oil majors are taking from the slump in oil prices.

For the second quarter, US oil major Exxon Mobil said profits had more than halved to US$4.2 billion (S$5.8 billion) from US$8.8 billion a year earlier, while Chevron announced a 90 per cent drop in earnings to just US$571 million.

Last week, Ezion got a temporary boost when its share price jumped a total of 10.2 per cent over Wednesday and Thursday following news that Prudential had become a substantial shareholder after hoisting its stake to 5.09 per cent when it bought 7.29 million shares at an average price of 85.58 cents apiece.

Data from Shareinvestor.com shows that Ezion bought back one million shares at an average price of 91.25 cents apiece on Thursday .

But that boost was short-lived as the counter resumed its slide and gave up all its gains. It lost 9.3 per cent between last Friday and yesterday when it ended at 83 cents after slipping earlier to a three-year intraday low of 77.5 cents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Ezion a likely short-sell target, data shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe