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Oct 31, 2011

Due Diligence Key to Saving your Skin in China: Don't do it the John Paulson Way

Private Equity firms, Hedge Funds and overzealous investors in Chinese companies beware.  Needless to say I wasn’t surprised or disappointed when learning that “Hedge Fund Guru” John Paulson of Paulson & Co. lost a cool half a billion dollars on a Chinese company called Sino-Forest, listed on the Toronto exchange, after a report from the research firm Muddy Waters exposed significant reporting fraud at Sin0-Forest. 

Now for those of us who are in the Jungle (China) on a daily basis, we could have saved Paulson a lot of money and Muddy Waters a lot of time and told everyone from the beginning to expect fraud and overstatement of resources, assets, and earnings and to do due diligence. 

Then after you’ve done it, do it again and again.  Yes there are good companies in the Jungle, with solid earnings, accurate financial statements and transparency and I am sure the opportunities for investment and stock trading can be promising.  But, it is never what it really seems here in the Jungle and best to remember and dream about due diligence.  The following from the editorial page of the South China Morning Post as always for your reading pleasure.

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Investors need to have faith restored in companies being brought to market
LEADER
Jun 28, 2011

The cloud of doubt over Chinese companies listed on the world’s stock markets is getting ever darker. Values took another dive last week after it emerged that American hedge fund guru John Paulson had suffered massive losses by ditching his entire stake in the Toronto-listed mainland firm Sino-Forest, accused by a short-seller of faking timber holdings.

His move has added to the damage caused by a series of scandals that have wiped billions of dollars off the market value of companies and damaged their credibility, regardless of whether they have been implicated.
But it is wrong to point the finger at suspect companies alone. Those who bring questionable firms to market should also be under the spotlight. Those are the investment banks, accounting firms, institutional investors and lawyers who vouch for the firms that are trying to list on stock exchanges. Just as during the global financial meltdown three years ago and the dotcom bubble of 2000, it is obvious that they have not done their homework. A number of firms that have doctored their books have been able to list.

A point is fast approaching where investors are unsure who they can trust. Large state firms and small private ones alike are being shunned. The values of many have plunged at least 20 per cent, and some by as much as 60 per cent, in the past few weeks alone. Quick action is needed by companies and the government to shore up credibility.

But a public relations blitz, in which firms make themselves as transparent as possible, and a concerted effort by authorities to improve domestic accounting practices are only part of the solution. Investors also have to have faith in the foreign entities that sign off on audits, underwrite initial public offerings and promote companies as sound deals. Conflicts of interest that abound have to be taken out of the process. Foreign stock exchanges seeking to attract mainland companies must also meet their responsibility to investors.
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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com