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Olam CEO: Share Price a 'Lagging Indicator' of Progress

Reporting by Adam Bakhtiar, Writing by Ansuya Harjani
Thursday, 7 Feb 2013 | 9:01 PM ET
Sunny Verghese, group managing director and chief executive officer of Olam International.
Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Sunny Verghese, group managing director and chief executive officer of Olam International.

Olam CEO Sunny Verghese defended the company's performance after the shares slumped nearly 40 percent over the past year, and called the stock move a lagging indicator of progress at the Singapore-listed commodities trader.

Olam shares, which came under attack by U.S. short-seller Muddy Waters Research last year, have declined 37 percent over the past 12 months, far underperforming the broader Straits Times Index (STI), which rose 11.6 percent over the same period.

The shares are still the most heavily borrowed in Singapore's benchmark stock index, according to Reuters, which means that many investors continue to hold short positions in the stock.

"The share price in our view is a lagging indicator and as we continue to execute and deliver similar results we'll continue to see the impact of that over the short and medium term," Verghese said, following the company's earnings announcement on Thursday.

Olam, whose second-biggest shareholder is Singapore state investor Temasek, reported a 20 percent gain in net profit to S$154.1 million ($124 million) in the October to December period, from a year earlier. The sale and leaseback of almond orchards in California, which amounted to S$18.1 million ($14.6 million), contributed to the rise in profits.

"This quarter has been a very good set of results, we need to consistently deliver those kinds of result for our share price to follow what has happened in our bond prices and what has happened to our debt costs," Verghese said.

Verghese said the company will continue its legal battle against short-seller Carson Block and his firm Muddy Waters Research, which last year alleged accounting irregularities, aggressive spending and high debt levels at the company triggering a major sell-off in its shares.

"We've served papers successfully on Muddy Waters, we have not been successful as yet serving on Carson Block. So we'll continue with our efforts to serve Carson as well directly," he said.

(Read More: Is There Truth in Muddy Waters' Report on Olam?)

Credit Rating?

Verghese said he did not think it was necessary for Olam to have its bonds rated by a ratings agency, noting that 65 to 70 percent of companies in the industry remained unrated.

"You rate because you want to lower your cost of borrowing or you are not able to access certain debt pools of capital, in our case, our cost of borrowing is competitive. In fact, in some tenures, our cost of borrowing is lower than an investment grade rated peer company," he said.

Last year, Muddy Waters offered to pay for Olam to get its bonds rated by ratings agency Standard and Poor's.

Verghese maintained that the company's leverage levels were not an issue, and remained "well within the covenants of our banks."

(Read More: Muddy Waters Calls Temasek-backed Olam Fund-Raising a 'Bailout')

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