Commodities giant Olam shares fall after criticism

Top agricultural commodities supplier Olam International's share price slumped Tuesday as it rejected criticism of its financial health and accounting practices by an influential short-seller.

The stock fell by up to 11 percent to Sg$1.5450 ($1.2619) after the lifting of a temporary halt sought by Olam, a Singapore-based processor of agricultural products and food ingredients. It closed 7.47 percent down at Sg$1.61.

Olam's shareholders include state investment company Temasek Holdings.

The Financial Times reported that Carson Block, founder of US-based short-seller Muddy Waters Research, on Monday triggered a 21 per cent drop in Olam's shares in the US over-the-counter market after he told an investment conference in London he was betting against the company.

Olam "strongly rejects the assertions made by Carson Block and/or Muddy Waters," it said in a statement posted on the Singapore Exchange website.

"We will reserve the right to take strong and appropriate action with regard to any unsubstantiated or baseless assertions made in the media by parties whose motives might be in question."

The company said it sought a suspension early Tuesday amid reports that Block or Muddy Waters would release a detailed report on Olam, which reported a net profit of Sg$43.2 million on revenues of Sg$4.69 billion in its financial first quarter ending September.

"This release has yet to take place. The Company is therefore requesting that the trading halt be lifted to allow investors to continue to trade in the Company's securities," it added.

The Financial Times said Block criticised Olam's debt levels, saying it had "reacted to the 2008 crisis by deciding to take huge leverage and invest in illiquid positions".

He also questioned Olam's accounting practices, including the way it had booked profits on some of its acquisitions as well as its valuation of its plantations, crops and livestock, it was reported.

Olam sources 44 products from 65 countries and supplies them to more than 11,600 customers, its statement said. Key products include cocoa, coffee, cashew, sesame, rice, and cotton and wood products.

Block's assessments of companies have been closely monitored, especially after Chinese timber supplier Sino-Forest Corp. (SNOFF) filed for bankruptcy protection after a 2011 Muddy Waters report questioned the value of its assets.

Olam listed in Singapore in 2005 and is among the 40 largest listed companies in the city-state in terms of market capitalisation.

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