Hess AG (DEDE000A0N3EJ6) busted German IPO stock – Could the fraud have been easily detected ?

Just yesterday, Hess AG, a company which IPOed on the German stock exchange on October 25th 2012, announced that they fired both, their CEO and CFO because of alleged balance sheet manipulations.

The stock price directly crashed some 60% to 6 EUR (IPO price 15,50 EUR):

In some follow up news, the company reported that sales might have been inflated and the financial position might not be as good as stated in the IPO prospectus.

As a value investor, one wouldn’t invest in IPOs anyway.

The Hess AG IPO was priced at levels which one could only assume as “optimistic”, with a trailing P/E ratio of ~50. The price was justified with the supposed “growth” the company was showing in the past and the “story” of the “LED” based business model.

As usual, all parties involved in the IPO (Banks: Landesbank BaWü, Kempen, MM Warburg) will claim that they knew nothing and that you cannot protect against fraudulent management.

The auditors of course will claim the same, in the IPO prospectus they stated explicitly (in German) the follow:

Nicht Gegenstand unseres Auftrags ist die Pr¨ufung der Ausgangszahlen, einschließlich ihrer Anpassung an die Rechnungslegungsgrunds¨atze, Ausweis-,
Bilanzierungs- und Bewertungsmethoden der Gesellschaft sowie der in den Pro-Forma-Erl¨auterungen dargestellten Pro-Forma-Annahmen.

This says they explicitly didn’t check the underlying figures.

The big question of course is: Were there any red flags in the presented numbers ?

How do you “fake” sales anyway ? Well, this is quite simple. You have to organize some kind of “strawman” first, then sell the stuff to him/her and book the proceeds against receivebales. So whenever one sees a large increase in receivables, one should be extremely cautious.

In the case of Hess AG, one does not need to be a Rocket scientist to “smell the rat”. I have extracted the following working capital items from the balance sheet (page 64):

6M 2012 2011 2010 2009
 
Inventories 17.3 14.8 11.7 9.6
receivables 24.1 22 11.5 8.5
 
Payables 9.8 4 2.2 1.3
Net Working cap   32.8 21 16.8
         
“Sales”   68.3 55.7 52.4
 
Inv/sales   21.7% 21.0% 18.3%
Rec/Sales   32.2% 20.6% 16.2%
Payables/Sales   5.9% 3.9% 2.5%
 
NetWC/Sales   48.0% 37.7% 32.1%

So it is pretty easy to see, that receivables compared to sales almost doubled over 2 years. The increase in receivables almost exactly mirrors the actual increase in sales. It looks like that almost all the sales increase were actually generated by sales against receivables.

The next item to check is of course the cash flow statement. Here however we see something strange:

6M 2012 2011 2010 2009 Total
 
Op CF 3.4 -4.6 -1.4 3.6 1.0
inv CF -7.3 -7.9 -1.5 -6.9 -23.6
Fin CF 6.2 14.2 2.3 2.6 25.3

At first it looks that in total, operating CF over the last 3 1/2 years was positive and the company did just invest a lot. But how did they manage the Turnaround ?

In the IPO prospectus they say the following (page 89) about the operating cashflow:

Operativer Cashflow
Vergleich der Halbjahre endend zum 30. Juni 2012 und 2011
Der operative Cashflow erh¨ohte sich von TEUR -3.133 im ersten Halbjahr 2011 um TEUR 6.494 auf TEUR 3.361 im ersten Halbjahr 2012. Wesentliche den operativen Cashflow bestimmende Faktoren waren ein erheblicher Mittelzufluss aus der Position „Veränderungen der Forderungen aus Lieferungen und Leistungen und sonstigen Forderungen und Vermögenswerte’’ in Höhe von TEUR 8.130 gegenüber einem Mittelabfluss im ersten Halbjahr 2011 in Höhe von TEUR 638, der Rückgang des Mittelabflusses aus der Veränderung der Vorräte in Höhe von nur TEUR -652 gegen¨uber TEUR -3.043 im ersten Halbjahr 2011 sowie eine deutliche Erhöhung der Position Abschreibungen in Höhe von TEUR 2.086 gegen¨uber TEUR 1.255 im ersten Halbjahr 2011. Gegenl¨aufig verhielt sich die die Position „Veränderungen der Verbindlichkeiten aus Lieferungen und Leistungen und sonstiger Verbindlichkeiten’’, die zu einem deutlich erh¨ohten Mittelabfluss in Höhe von TEUR -7.976 im ersten Halbjahr 2012 gegen¨uber TEUR -1.719 im ersten Halbjahr 2011 f¨uhrte.

This statement clearly shows that there is something very fishy going on. In the table I extracted above, we can clearly see that there was a NEGATIVE effect from receivables and inventories in the first half year and an unexplained very POSITIVE effect from payable. So why do they state the exact OPPOSITE in their explanation of the cash flow statement ?

Explanation 1: They just mixed up the vocabulary (which would be already a reason to fire the CFO)

Explanation 2: They included other balance sheet item here in order to obscure the fact that they have inflated sales.

Explanation 3: The 6m 2012 cashflow statement is just fabricated and does not fit together with the (fabricated balance sheet)

Just for fun, let’s compare the balance sheet positions with the entries in the operating cashflow statement:

OP CF statement Balance sheet   calculated Op CF Delta stated
  6 M 2012 30.06.2012 31.12.2011    
           
Change in inventory -0.7 17.3 14.8 -2.5 -1.8
Change in receivables 8.1 24.1 22 -2.1 -10.2
Change in short term payables -8.0 9.8 4 5.8 13.8

We can clearly see that the 6m “flow” numbers have absolutely nothing to do with the delta of the respective balance sheet numbers.

At that point in time one could already stop and conclude that there is either total incompetency or already fraud. Even taking into account all the other short term balance sheet figures, one never gets to the stated cash flow numbers.

In my experience, strongly rising receivables combined with an incomprehensible or even wrong operating cashflow calculation are a very reliable “red flag”.

Summary:

Although it sounds like “Monday morning quarterbacking”, a relatively superficial analysis of HEss AG’s IPO prospectus would have discovered some serious issues with receivables and operating cash flows. Whe someone starts to doctor around with fake sales, one usually gets negative operating cashflows. If the cashflow statement then looks incomprehensible or wrong, actual fraud is quite likely.

In cases like Hess, “red flags” in that magnitude could even be a very good indicator for an interesting short opportunity. In cases like Reply, where the inconsistencies are on a smaller scale, it is rather a hint to stay away from investing.

Edit: If someone thinks that Hess is now a good investment, because it is so “cheap”, then forget it. Eevn if there is some “sound” business left in the company, first of all there is no proof that they ever earned money and secondly I will assume that there will be quite some legal action on that one.

China Forestry Holding – eine weitere zweifelhafte Agrar Aktie aus China

Vielen Dank erstmal an User Raymond_james für seinen Hinweis auf China Forestry, die Zitat:

trotz branchennähe nicht die geringsten parallelen zu Asian Bamboo aufweist

Kurzes googlen ergibt folgenden Artikel im Wallstreet Journal:

The first thing to note about the company is that it’s a Chinese natural-resources company at a time when natural resources are a hot investment story in China. And surely even the worst-run timber company ought in theory to be positioned to capitalize at least a little bit on China’s construction boom.

One might then notice the matter of land valuation. Skeptics of China Forestry’s IPO have noted its statement that its profits in the three years leading up to its offering arose almost exclusively from the appreciation of its forest-land holdings rather than from operations. That would raise questions for an investor looking to put money in a forestry company. But to others it would represent a useful form of acumen.

Consider China Forestry’s success so far in obtaining land at “favorably low” prices. While the company warned that this might not continue indefinitely—quoth the prospectus, “sellers may become increasingly sophisticated about the valuation and prices of their forests and may demand higher premiums for high quality forests”—that loss of advantage isn’t necessarily inevitable or imminent.

Hmmm….Irgendwie kommt einem das doch bekannt vor ? Interessant ist, dass Top Private Equity Firma Carlyle hier mit einem 11% Anteil dabei war.

Ein Top Investor in der Liste der Anteilseigner ist also auch nicht unbedingt ein Kennzeichen für eine seriöse Chinesische Firma.

Es bleibt spannend.

Short Asian Bamboo – China Background Infos

Fairerweise sollte man im Hinblick auf die hohe Shortposition bei Asian Bamboo in den USA auch auf die aktuellen Entwicklungen verweisen. In USA sind generell viele der dort gelisteten China Firmen in Verdacht geraten.

U.a. prüft die SEC gerade in mehreren Fällen, siehe hier: Bloomberg Artikel

The SEC on Dec. 21 sanctioned a California audit firm for signing off on fraudulent financial statements made by a Chinese energy company. Auditors have come under scrutiny for signing the financial statements of China-based firms accessing U.S. markets through reverse mergers, in which a closely held company acquires a publicly traded company and can then sell shares without an initial public offering.

Bekannt ist for allem “MuddyWaters” durch den Research Bericht zu RINO geworden Sell Rino. Rino hat den Betrug mittlerweile auch zugegeben.

Andere Beispiele findet man z.B. auch im Bronte Blog China Media Express

Wir glauben, dass man auch diese Entwicklung im Auge behalten muss. Sollten sich mehrere dieser Fälle bestätigen, könnte das natürlich Auswirkungen auf alle China Aktien mit Auslandslisting haben.