Research

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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CORPORATE TRAVEL

Short-seller claims lacks substance

Gillem Tulloch · 31 October 2018

We’re no fan of acquisition-driven business models, such as Corporate Travel (CTD), but they’re not a crime. The allegations presented thus far by hedge fund VGI Partners against CTD appear, in our opinion, to lack substance and in some instances are plain inflammatory. The short-seller alludes that CTD is faking its overseas profits but fails to provide hard evidence, or explain how this would impact CTD’s financials. In its defence, CTD has provided a fairly comprehensive rebuttal. This shorting campaign against CTD appears to be working as VGI has made allegations against an expensive stock, not because they have much…
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SMOKE & MIRRORS

Embellishing performance using non-GAAP measures

Mark Webb · 24 October 2018

Accounting standards are designed to make life easy for investors. As such, companies moving away from GAAP measures should be regarded with suspicion. Our review of the 30 largest Chinese domiciled ADRs shows an increasing use of adjusted, vaguely defined and non-GAAP metrics which, in some cases, greatly exaggerates performance. This has likely led to inflated valuations and created a potential shorting opportunity as reality bites. The worst culprits are Bitauto, JD.com, Pinduoduo and Vipshop. GET PDF VIEW SLIDES Adjustments to GAAP data Of the 30 largest China-domiciled US-listed stocks, 26 publish adjusted net income (non-GAAP) alongside the GAAP figures…
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HAILIANG EDUCATION

SELL: Bad teacher?

Gillem Tulloch · 18 October 2018

In the best-case scenario, Hailiang Education (HLG US) is a financing vehicle for its parent company, with cash being siphoned into related parties. In the worst-case, it’s a fraud; and there’s a substantial body of evidence, although circumstantial, to support this: Its financials have similar traits to past frauds, such as unnecessary capital increases and a failure pay dividends; the replacement of a Big Four auditing firm with an obscure auditor; numerous concerns raised by auditors; three CFOs in two years; allegations of underhand dealings with ASA Resource; public listings possibly orchestrated to avoid proper scrutiny; and finally, a shambolic…
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A&G SCREEN UPDATE

And lessons learned from Folli Follie

Gillem Tulloch · 1 October 2018

The newly released forensic report on Greek jewellery retailer Folli Follie concludes that it was making up 90% of its sales in China. Our Accounting & Governance Screen suggests that the company had been faking sales since FY09, hiding the evidence in receivables, inventories, prepayments and cash. In reality, the company had been loss-making for close to a decade. Fortunately, only a dozen or so European companies have similar traits, which we detail within. The A&G Screen has expired and you must login and download the latest version if you wish to check your portfolio or search for companies with…
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HAIDILAO

Watch the relations

Nigel Stevenson · 28 September 2018

Half of Haidilao’s raw materials are bought from related parties, accounting for 25% of total operating expenses. This recently listed hot pot restaurant chain has a seemingly compelling investment story but there is huge scope to shift profits around the wider group. One of these related party suppliers, Yihai (1579 HK), reports that half its revenues come from Haidilao. Unfortunately, Yihai has similar traits to past frauds which could make it a short-seller target. This might undermine confidence towards the entire group. Instead of accumulating cash on its balance sheet like a fraud, Yihai needs to start investing, or increase…
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