No­ble’s lat­est res­cue plan seeks to reap­point founder to board

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Jon Yeo­mans

THE founder of com­modi­ties trader No­ble Group could be in line for a shock re­turn to the board af­ter the stricken firm re­vised its res­cue plan.

Sin­ga­pore-listed No­ble, which has been scrambling to pull a re­struc­tur­ing deal to­gether since the start of the year, said it would make Richard El­man an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor once more, af­ter he re­signed last month.

The com­pany in­fu­ri­ated share­hold­ers ear­lier this year when it un­veiled a plan that would see a group of its big­gest cred­i­tors take a 70pc stake in the group in re­turn for fresh cap­i­tal.

Under the plan, man­age­ment would have been handed a stake worth up to 20pc, leav­ing ex­ist­ing in­vestors with just 10pc.

No­ble said the new plan would raise the stake for share­hold­ers to 15pc. It now has the back­ing of more than 75pc of cred­i­tors for the re­struc­tur­ing, which must still go to a vote of share­hold­ers. Mr El­man, the Bri­tish-born me­tals trader who founded No­ble in Hong Kong in 1986, presided over a rapid ex­pan­sion in the com­pany but stepped back from day-to-day man­age­ment last year af­ter its mount­ing losses led to col­lapse in its share price. Its mar­ket cap once touched $10bn (£7bn) but now stands closer to $140m.

Mr El­man said the last three years “have been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for the com­pany and for me per­son­ally” but that the new deal was “fair” to share­hold­ers.

Paul Brough, chair­man, said Mr El­man’s sup­port was “uniquely im­por­tant” and his ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge would “as­sist New No­ble in the re­al­i­sa­tion of its po­ten­tial and, once again, de­liv­er­ing value to all our stake­hold­ers”.

The move was la­belled a “to­tal joke” by ac­tivist re­search group Ice­berg, which first flagged prob­lems in No­ble’s ac­count­ing in 2015 when it pub­lished a se­ries of bomb­shell re­ports.

“With the same man­age­ment and same di­rec­tors, the new No­ble looks aw­fully like the old No­ble,” an Ice­berg spokesman said. “The other share­hold­ers and per­pet­ual [bond hold­ers] are far from happy.”

No­ble started life sup­ply­ing steel­mak­ers in China with coal from In­done­sia, be­fore go­ing on to ship me­tals, grains and cof­fee all over Asia. The res­cue plan would see No­ble shrink back to its ear­lier form.

How­ever No­ble’s res­cue is by no means as­sured. Its plan has been crit­i­cised by the Sin­ga­pore Stock Ex­change over con­cerns it may be treat­ing share­hold­ers un­fairly, while one of its big­gest in­vestors, Abu Dhabi-based Goldilocks, has threat­ened a law­suit.

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