Search Results for: Fraud

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”.


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 Frauds – “Best of” der letzten Tage

Die letzten Tage gab es ja einige Breitseiten gegen dubiose China Werte.

Zum Muddy Waters Report über Sino Forest hatten wir ja schon berichtet, mittlerweile hat sich FT Alphaville des Themas angenommen und 3 sehr interessante Artikel veröffentlicht: Teil 1, Teil 2 und Teil 3. Dazu noch ein möglicher Downgrade von Moody’s und vorbei ist es mit Rebound Hoffnungen.

Citron Research hat sich dagegen auf Harbin Electric eingeschossen und zwar hier und hier. Interessant ist der Fall, weil angeblich der CEO die Firma zurückkaufen will, der Ankündigung aber bislang wenig Taten gefolgt sind. Diese Taktik wird man in Zukunft vmtl. öfter sehen.

Bei einem anderen China Agrarwert, Chaoda gab es schon vor knapp 2 Wochen ähnliche Vorwürfe in einem Chinesisch sprachigen Magazin.

“Alfred Little” dagegen soll u.a. von Deer verklagt werden, ebenso wie Geoinvesting, die einen kritischen Beitrag zu Sino Clean Energy verfasst haben. Die Erfolgsaussichten dieser Klagen scheinen relativ gering zu sein (siehe Zitat) und wohl eher auf kurzfristige Kursrallys gerichtet zu sein.

Suits against short sellers, who sell borrowed shares with the hope of profiting when they fall, are rare, difficult to win and can backfire on companies that bring them, said Adam Pritchard, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

“I’ve seen it before, people complaining about the short sellers — the Chinese are just the flavor du jour,” said Pritchard, who specializes in corporate and securities law. “They bring these suits and then quietly let them drop. You would look hard to find a verdict in favor of the company.”

Eine Google Such für “China Stock Fraud” wirft schon 8,5 Mio Ergebnisse aus und es gibt schon eine eigene Wikipedia Seite.

Kaum erklärbar ist dafür, warum China Internet Aktien trotz fehlender Geschäftsmodelle momentan der IPO Renner sind. Vielleicht liegts daran, das “social Media” aktien ohnhin keine Gewinne zeigen müssen und deshalb auch nichts fälschen müssen.

Damit dürfte auch in den nächsten Tagen für Spannung in diesem Bereich gesorgt sein.

Wirecard follow up (2) – BAFIN, sell side analysts, portfolio managers and others

As promised last time, the follow up to the follow up. Let’s look at a few other “actors” in this developing crime story.

A few updates:

Yesterday, the German authorities started searching offices and private homesa second time with a big team of over 50 people. The new CEO in a feature story of Manager Magazin seems to have found out on his first day that the fraud started at least 5 years ago. After the crazy idiot speculator orgy the last two days, the stock seems to approach back its intrinsic value of 0,00 EUR per share.

The local newspaper SZ “discovered” that the escrow accounts were not the only fraud and and a lot of well known clients & cooperation partners leave the sinking ship rapidly, for instance Aldi Süd, Allianz and Softbank.

My new prediction is that not only the stock is a zero but all debt at TopCo level is essentially worthless.

There is also a very good interview with Dan McCrum on which covers a lot of aspects that I have been writing about. Most interestingly, McCrum promises to “tell the bigger story”……

The German Regulator BAFIN and what went wrong there

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Wirecard follow Up – Open questions & some wild guesses

Thanks to a week of vacation I was on “read only” mode since I posted my Wirecard story 11 days ago.

Since then a lot of things happened, such as EY suddenly doubting the existence of 1,9 bn in “cash”, Wirecard releasing a really strange 2 minute video Statement, the CEO resigning, the CEO being arrested and subsequently released on a 5 mn bail, the COO having disappeared somewhere between the Philippines and China and the company finally filing for insolvency.

As mentioned in the earlier post, the insolvency is not really a surprise, but to be honest, the speed of the unraveling was clearly surprising. Equally surprising was today’s share price movement of ~+130% at the time of writing, resulting in a market cap of 360 mn EUR.  With the senior bonds trading at only ~18,6% of notional and falling further, it is pretty clear that shareholder will end up with a zero, but the gamblers and day traders seem to have a lot of fun. Personally, I think even the unsecured borrowers (Hi Softbank !!) will end up with a nice “Donut” due to the weak creditor protection in Germany.

The Book/ The Movie

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Wirecard – the “German Enron” & a very personal history 2008-2020

For those who just came back from a 15 year space mission: Wirecard is a German  company that according to its website is ” one of the world’s fastest-growing digital platforms for financial commerce”. It managed (briefly) to achieve a market cap of close to 25 bn EUR and is part of the German Blue Chip index DAX 30. The stock lost -62,71% today which is most likely a record for a DAX company for a single day.

Backstory / Personal history 2008

This is an article I wanted to write for a long time but I was actually afraid to do so for several reasons.

Wirecard is a company/stock that I have been following for a very long time. My first “encounter” with the company ended in a kind of “5 minutes of fame” situation with some very unpleasant side effects.

The story starts in May 2008 when a post appeared under the pseudonym memyselfandi007 on Wallstreet Online, the largest German stock community/forum. (fun fact: This Thread seems to have been read 17,8 million times, so a lot more than all my blog posts on V&O combined….).

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All German Shares Part 25 (Nr. 526-550)

Another batch of 25 randomly selected German stocks. This time with some quite interesting or even strange underlying businesses. Five candidates are worth “watching”.

526. VTG AG

VTG is a 1.1 bn market cap company that is renting out/ leasing railway cars and was taken over by a Morgan Stanley infrastructure fund in 2018 at 53 EUR/share. The company has been de-listed and is trading only on the “Pink sheets”. Interestingly the stock price suffered after the crisis but has recovered in the past weeks as well:

VTG upd

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Some links

The Undervalued Shares blog has started an interesting “Behind the scenes” series

A good summary from A16Z on how moats develop

Ben Thompson with some deep thoughts on platform business models (Shopify)

A good summary of the crazy things in the capital markets that happened in the last few months

An interesting in depth story on the Luckin Coffee fraud (WSJ, paywall)

Deep Dive on stock based compensation

Alternative data use for predicting asset prices is booming


Panik Journal 7 – “Where is my bailout” and Behavioral Change

My last “panic Journal” post is now 3 weeks old. What has changed ? If I look at my learnings, not much. We still don’t really know how many people have been infected, how it transmits, what is the actual cause of the deaths, if there are treatments and when we will have a vaccine. The only major difference is that toilet paper now is available in my local drug store every day and and stocks are even higher than back then.

It took me so long to write this, because every time I start to write something, I discover that someone else has already written about it, so I try to focus on stuff I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Where is my bailout (Leoni, Adidas, Start ups, Car purchase incentives)

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Some links

Two links to Q1 fund letters: Link 1 & Link 2  (h/t Valueinvesting World)

A great story about the Luckin Coffee fraud

Great long read on Exxon and their current issues

Some deep thoughts on (US ) airlines (fuel hedging, network effects, Southwest)

The Undervalued Shares blog on activist investing in Germany/Europe (Agfa Gevaert)

The currently very productive Profit Hunting blog looks at Brookfield Infrastructure Partners

It might still take a while before “Value stocks” come back

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