Research

GUEST SERIES

Variable Interest Entities in China

Gillem Tulloch · 14 March 2019

It’s been close to three years since we last had a guest writer but when Professor Paul Gillis floated the idea of updating his views on Chinese Variable Interest Entities (VIEs), we jumped at the opportunity to publish. As the report explains, VIEs and the accompanying service agreements are the structure by which foreigners mimic the benefits of owning a restricted asset in China. Close to 70% of all China-domiciled companies listed on foreign exchanges use them but they are not without their controversies, after all, they are trying to enable something which strictly speaking is prohibited under Chinese law….
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LOADED DICE

Companies that rig returns from investments

Mark Webb · 6 March 2019

Accounting scandals at Enron and Olympus, as well as fallout from the global financial crisis, were meant to have tightened rules governing the treatment of investments. Unfortunately, our research shows companies have continued to hide problems off balance sheet and selectively recognise gains from only the most successful investments. 58.Com has been one of the most active users of these accounting tricks and doubts about its profit growth question its premium P/E rating. CCCC and JD.com’s businesses are burning cash and appear to be camouflaging the magnitude of outflows. We recommend AVOIDING all three stocks. GET PDF Stricter accounting rules…
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TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE

AVOID/SELL: A scandal too far

Gillem Tulloch · 21 February 2019

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has lost eight directors and a CFO in less than a year. Predictably, the company is playing down these departures. TCM has a troubled history. The original business had a disappointing US listing and was subsequently privatised; it gained its current Hong Kong listing through a reverse takeover, circumventing regulatory scrutiny. Financials are problematic owing to poor working capital, possible cost capitalisation and fraud-like traits. Furthermore, acquisitions from related parties, including the current MD, raise additional governance issues. Given these concerns, we recommend investors AVOID/SELL. The possibility of a major corporate governance event, such as the…
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PINDUODUO (PDD US)

AVOID/SHORT: Risks rise from surprise fund raising

Mark Webb · 12 February 2019

PDD’s surprise announcement of a secondary share offering in the middle of Chinese New Year is not just surprising but has a whiff of desperation about it. Fund raising during a public holiday and so soon after its IPO is a concern. At best, it’s an opportunistic measure to raise cash it doesn’t need. Other explanations are more problematic; disclosure in the accompanying prospectus suggests underlying profitability and cash generation may be even weaker than headline figures suggest. The revelation that new revenue recognition rules will be applied a year earlier than previously thought may also have encouraged PDD to…
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NEW DOGS, OLD TRICKS 

Frauds in 2018

Mark Webb · 30 January 2019

Accounting irregularities and alleged frauds led to some spectacular share price declines in 2018. Allegations were confirmed at seven companies globally, with claims made against a further 11 Asian companies, leading to an average share price decline of 40%. The most frequent fraud involved faking revenues and profits with the evidence hidden as cash or other current assets. Meanwhile, the inflation of profits through the abuse of acquisition accounting is an increasingly common occurrence. Our Accounting & Governance Screen successfully identified problems at targeted companies, and we highlight those with similar characteristics within this report. Transactions with connected but off…
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THE OVERSEAS CHINESE

Top 30 US-listed Chinese companies

Gillem Tulloch · 16 January 2019

It was all supposed to be so easy: just analyse the 30 largest US-listed Chinese companies and evaluate the risk. Well, it wasn’t. This share class has an unusually high historic track record of fraud and shenanigans, likely stemming from the deliberate avoidance of regulatory oversight through the exploitation of Foreign Private Issuer status. The accounting picture is further muddied by the use of Variable Interest Entities (VIEs) where we suspect there are large undisclosed tax liabilities. These issues are complicated and need explaining, hence the length of this report. Our analysts regarded over 70% of this sample as a…
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HENGAN INTL

SELL: Magic Margins

Nigel Stevenson · 17 December 2018

Short-seller, Bonitas Research has targeted Hengan (1044 HK) as a fraud. Operating margins in its sanitary napkins business of over 50% are far higher than those earned by any other comparable business. We struggle to think of any plausible explanation. Hengan has also accumulated US$3bn of cash, yet continues to raise additional debt. Nonetheless, proving fraud is difficult: any evidence that Hengan has faked its profits is entirely circumstantial. But an air of suspicion is likely to hang over the stock. One easy solution would be for the company to reduce its cash to a reasonable level and repay its…
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TONGCHENG-ELONG

SELL: Risky, embellished and overrated

Mark Webb · 13 December 2018

Tongcheng-Elong is yet another hastily constructed company with limited historical financials that has sought a listing in Hong Kong. Taken at face value, China’s third largest online travel agency is more profitable than market leader Ctrip, in what is a highly commoditised business. How can that be? There is huge scope for manipulation given that the group has only existed in its present form since March 2018, meaning that historical financials are not representative. We’ve found evidence of profit inflation, cash flow manipulation and misleading non-GAAP performance measures. Given its business model is inferior to Ctrip’s, we believe Tongcheng-Elong should…
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PINDUODUO

Window-dressing rather than fraud

Mark Webb · 23 November 2018

Pinduoduo (PDD) has been accused of inflating GMV, overstating revenues, understating staff costs and, therefore, under-reporting its losses. In our view, the majority of allegations made by short-seller Blue Orca (BOC) are not supported by the evidence. We agree that PDD’s GMV is almost certainly exaggerated, but this is likely well known. BOC’s other arguments are less compelling. Its specific allegations about PDD inflating revenues and understating losses are not adequately established. In addition, while it flags inconsistencies over staff numbers, it is not evident that staff costs are artificially depressed. We argue that PDD is an unattractive investment, but…
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A2 MILK

SELL: Ready to pop

Nigel Stevenson · 15 November 2018

A2 Milk (A2M) has achieved super-normal profitability by selling a “special” kind of infant formula to Chinese consumers through unofficial distribution channels. The problem is that A2M has limited IP to protect its product, and competitors like Nestle are closing in. Meanwhile, new Chinese e-commerce rules may hamper its distribution network. It is difficult to see how A2M can protect its returns when it spends far less on marketing and research than peers. Consensus forecasts 30% compound revenue growth for two years on widening margins, placing it on 22x FY20 PER; we see slower revenue growth and contracting margins resulting…
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