After unexplained surge, shares of troubled commodity trader Noble fall

Key Points
  • Shares of commodity trader Noble retraced some of their more than 36 percent surge in the previous session amid strong volume
  • Noble said it wasn't aware of a reason for the move
  • The troubled company has been searching for a strategic investor, but so far negotiations haven't yielded a deal

In early Friday trade, shares of troubled commodity trader Noble Group retraced some of their more than 36 percent surge in the previous session.

The stock was down 10.94 percent at 57 Singapore cents ($0.41) at 2:51 p.m. HK/SIN, after climbing 36.17 percent, or 17 Singapore cents, to close at S$0.64 on Thursday amid a surge in volume.

Around 32.16 million shares had changed hands as of 2:51 p.m. HK/SIN, with Reuters data showing some large trade sizes.

Nearly 124 million shares changed hands on Thursday, compared with its previous five-day average volume of 18.27 million, according to Reuters data.

Short-covering was unlikely to explain the move as Singapore Exchange (SGX) data indicated that only 678,000 shares were sold short as of the close on Wednesday.

But by Thursday's close, that had jumped to around 4.1 million shares sold short, valued at around S$2.30 million, likely driven by expectations the stock's surge would fade.

The company has been searching for a strategic investor — so far without any public announcement of success.

In May, Reuters reported, citing three sources familiar with the matter, that Chinese state-owned company Sinochem was no longer pursuing an investment in the Singapore-listed company due to concerns over its finances after it posted a surprise loss for the January-to-March quarter and warned it wouldn't be profitable for two years.

In a response to the SGX's query on the unusual activity on Thursday, Noble said it was unaware of any information not previously announced that could explain the trading.

Noble didn't provide additional information.

"The group ensures that it is at all times in compliance with the listing rules and disclosure obligations. The group does not comment on third parties' actions," a Noble representative said in an email on Thursday in response to CNBC's request for comment.

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Noble asked lenders to waive a debt covenant tied to a $1.1 billion credit line maturing next year, with credit investors saying they expected approval, according to a report from the Financial Times on Thursday.

In June, Noble said in an SGX filing that it received a 120-day extension of a credit facility for Noble Americas, and that it was continuing to negotiate with its lenders over a credit facility due in May 2018.

Earlier this week, two substantial shareholders reported to SGX that they had cut their interest in Noble.

Morgan Stanley said in a Tuesday filing that its interest fell from 6.55 percent of the company, or around 86.045 million shares, to 5.9273 percent, or around 77.81 million shares.

Similarly, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial said in a Tuesday filing that its stake fell to 5.93 percent from 6.55 percent.

At its peak in 2010, Noble was Asia's largest commodity trader with a market cap of more than $10 billion.

Shares hit an all-time high of S$17 in 2011, but have since tumbled as Noble struggled with the aggressive commodity price decline in recent years.

Noble has been forced to shuffle management, sell down assets and slash costs to boost liquidity. At the same time, its management has been navigating a series of credit downgrades, write-downs and accusations of improper accounting standards, denied vociferously by the company — all of which contributed to the dramatic collapse in its share price.

In May, Noble reported a surprise loss of $129 million for the January-to-March quarter, compared with a $40 million profit in the year-earlier period.