Noble shares take another iceberg on the chin

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Shares of Singapore-listed commodity trader Noble Group tumbled in Friday afternoon trade after gadfly anonymous researcher Iceberg Research launched another negative report about the company.

In a Wordpress post, Iceberg, which Noble has claimed is run by an ex-employee, wrote that the company's recently announced efforts to find a strategic investor were essentially just Groundhog Day all over again.

In an emailed response, Iceberg said Noble Group's claim that an ex-employee was behind the research was an "old story." Iceberg compared its research with Bethany McLean, a journalist known for her efforts to break the Enron story.

In the latest post, titled, "Noble Group: How many times can you fool the same people," Iceberg posted a list of purported previous efforts to find a strategic investor.

Much of the post was a re-hashing of Iceberg's previous complaints over how Noble values its commodity contracts and handles its accounting.

In a development that could also be compared with Groundhog Day, Singapore stock traders once again sold off Noble shares in a knee-jerk reaction to the latest report.

At one point, Noble shares plunged as much as 25.9 percent to as low as 0.20 Singapore dollars, before retracing some losses to close down 16.67 percent at 0.225 Singapore dollars. That followed a more than 41 percent rise between Feb. 10 and its last close at S$0.270 on Thursday. The trading on Friday quickly made the stock the most active share on the exchange.

In response to a query from SGX regarding the stock's fall on Friday, Noble said in a filing to the stock exchange that other than the Iceberg blog posting, it wasn't aware of any other potential reason for the share's fall.

In a note published on Friday afternoon, BNP Paribas pointed to the latest Iceberg blog and said, "we did not find any new information in the report; the concerns they had on contract valuation have been an old and recurring theme."

BNP Paribas said it believed Noble's operations showed improvement in 2016, adding that the company should be able to benefit more from increased coal, oil and other commodity prices in 2017.

"The insufficient disclosure on the gains/losses on commodity/derivative contracts have concerned us too and we have provided feedback to the company," BNP Paribas said, but added that it recommended buying Noble's 2018 bonds on dips as cash levels appeared sufficient to pay them off.

The stock's recent rise was likely driven by a Reuters report last week, citing three sources familiar with the matter, that China's state-owned Sinochem is in early talks with Noble Group to buy an equity stake in the embattled trader.

If a deal is reached, that would help Sinochem gain access to Noble's global supply chain, Reuters reported.

Reuters, citing sources, said the talks have not been completed and there is no assurance that a deal will be finalized.

When contacted by CNBC, Noble declined to comment on the latest Iceberg report and referred to its February 14 filing to the Singapore Stock Exchange that it was engaged in talks regarding possible strategic investment in the company, but that no binding agreements had been reached.

Iceberg's reports have figuratively drifted into Noble's ship for nearly two years.

The anonymously published Wordpress blog began in February 2015, when Iceberg Research published a report alleging that the Singapore-listed trader's accounting treatments were "unusual," resulted in "fabricated" profit and "intentionally misleads credit agencies and investors."

Noble has consistently and vehemently denied the allegations.