Are short sellers gunning for Singapore again?

Pedestrians exit an escalator that runs past an electronic screen and ticker board that indicates stock figures at the Singapore Exchange Ltd. (SGX) headquarters.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians exit an escalator that runs past an electronic screen and ticker board that indicates stock figures at the Singapore Exchange Ltd. (SGX) headquarters.

Singapore-listed commodity trader Noble Group has become the latest target of a critical research report, sending its shares sliding, but this latest incident leaves many open questions about the report's author.

Iceberg Research published a report headlined "Noble Group, a repeat of Enron," and claimed more critical reports about Noble would be in the offing. The report alleges that Noble's accounting treatments were "unusual," result in "fabricated" profit and "intentionally misleads credit agencies and investors."

Noble's response was swift.

"The company completely rejects the allegations. All material information to which Iceberg Research refers is in the public domain. There has been no material adverse change since the company last reported. The company reserves its rights against Iceberg Research," Noble said in a statement to the stock exchange.

But that didn't stop the stock price from falling as much as 9.5 percent intraday, although it recovered to trade down around 8.7 percent in the late afternoon period.

Analysts said much of what was in the Iceberg note was already known, and raised questions about where the research came from.

"What Iceberg is saying needs further investigation. We'll be looking closely into the numbers," Carey Wong, an analyst at OCBC, told CNBC. But as far as Iceberg goes, "we don't know who they are… there's hardly anything about them. That has raised the question of how credible these guys are."

Who is Iceberg?

The report and the company's website offer few clues to the identity of Iceberg. The website is a Wordpress blog, it has no archived reports and its "about" section claims only that Iceberg identifies earnings misrepresentations.

While it has a Twitter account, it has only tweeted twice: once to announce it was initiating coverage of Noble and a second time to claim it has no short interest in the company's stock.


Iceberg told CNBC it was experienced in financial analysis, but chose to remain anonymous as "we would like people to focus on the strength of the arguments."

"We do it because (a) it is the right thing to do, (b) many have remarked that there were a few odd things in Noble's financials and it is time to put it on the table (after all it is a public company)," it said in emailed comments, adding that it hasn't sold this report or its next two reports. "We do not make any money from this (at any level)."

Iceberg declined to provide further details, such as how many people wrote the report.

The situation appears to bear some similarities to the events surrounding another Singapore-listed commodity trader, Olam International.

In 2012, Carson Block, the short-seller who founded research firm Muddy Waters, issued an attack on Olam, alleging accounting irregularities and criticizing the company's high debt levels. Olam denied the allegations in a long rebuttal, but its stock dropped sharply.

At the time, many analysts noted that the issues raised by Muddy Waters weren't new, but the company moderated its acquisition plans, slashed capital spending and obtained additional support from Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek following the report.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1