Muddy Waters Initiates Coverage on Olam with Strong Sell

For those who have been following the news, Muddy Waters has finally issued a 133 page research report on Olam. It initiates coverage on Olam with a strong sell, which is not surprising given the sequence of events, see Olam plunges in price after famous shortist Carson Block questions their accounts

Here are the main points from the report.

Muddy Waters rates Olam International (SGX:O32; OTC:OLMIY/OLMIF) shares a Strong Sell. In this latest report Muddy Waters highlights how:

  • Olam runs a high risk of failure. Its “asset heavy” strategy appears to be an off-the-rails CapEx and acquisition binge. Management talks about the “gestation” of these projects, but our research makes clear that they are marred by incompetence and perhaps significant misconduct. The vast majority of the acquisitions we have researched are of low quality assets that appear to bring little more than cosmetic benefits to Olam. In short, these projects are “pie in the sky” that we strongly believe are destroying substantial amounts of capital.
  • Bond holders in particular should be asking where their money goes (and how they will get it back). Olam has spent S$571.0 million less on acquisitions than announced. However, it has spent S$996.2 million on unattributed non-acquisition CapEx – most of it since FY2011. One possible interpretation is that Olam is doing far more greenfield projects than realized, which greatly increases its risk profile. Another possible interpretation is that Olam has problems with internal controls and significant cash leakage.
  • Over the years, Olam has committed a shocking number of accounting gaffes. We can conceive of two possible interpretations of its accounting track record – either its accounting functions are blithely incompetent; or, there could be malfeasance. (Both could be true as well.) The former interpretation has ominous implications for Olam’s oft self-promoted ability to manage risk. The latter interpretation obviously has even more dire implications.
  • We believe it is instructive to view Olam through the lens of failed US trader Enron Corp. There are a number of material similarities in the way their businesses developed, and their actions.
  • We value Olam on a liquidation basis because our opinion is that it is likely to fail. In the event of a liquidation, we estimate the present value of the debt to be 14 to 33 cents. In a liquidation, the equity would likely be wiped out, or given “nuisance value” at best.

I have only glanced through the report as it is pretty long. As I have not read the report in detail, I can’t comment too much on the content.

The important point here is that Muddy Waters compares Olam to Enron, which is a scary thought for shareholders if they knew how Enron basically went bankrupt due to accounting scandal. When you look at how Enron failed, “the primary motivations for Enron’s accounting and financial transactions seem to have been to keep reported income and reported cash flow up, asset values inflated, and liabilities off the books.” – James Bodurtha, Jr.

The allegations are serious and saying that all equity will be wiped sounds pretty extreme.

I will take some time to read through the report and update with a new post if there is anything interesting to write about.


For further reading, you may be interested in:

Olam plunges in price after famous shortist Carson Block questions their accounts

Snapshot of Palm Oil Sector October 2012

Palm Oil Plantation Stocks Tree Maturity Profiles

Listing of Felda Global Ventures Bhd

My Singapore Stock Portfolio Early September 2012

3 Comments on Muddy Waters Initiates Coverage on Olam with Strong Sell

  1. sgxstockpicker // November 28, 2012 at 8:37 AM // Reply

    Hi there,

    I just one to post one last comment about this issue which is how Olam has reacted to a “strong sell” report. In my own experience, CEOs of listed companies wanted coverage by equity analysts but if the latter writes anything that is a hold and a sell, I am sure the analyst won’t be invited for briefings and other events. SGX or MAS says it wants a level playing field for investors but does not curtail what I think is overly-optimistic reports. Muddy Waters’ report is fresh air though you rightly pointed out that CLSA might have covered those points before.

  2. olam is highly leveraged. There is less stressful way to make money. I will give it a miss.

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