Steinhoff shares strike near all-time low

23 December 2017 - 00:00 By PALESA VUYOLWETHU TSHANDU

Weeks after announcing accounting irregularities and the departure of one of the country's most prominent CEOs, integrated retailer Steinhoff is teetering on the brink of collapse, as the share price moves ever closer to its 1998 listing price, falling more than 40% this week, touching as low as R4.57.
The company listed at just over R3, reaching an all-time low of R2.44 in February 1999.
"Debt might just completely crush the business," said Byron Lotter, a portfolio manager at Vestact.Steinhoff is "a big business dilemma and there's a huge arm-wrestle between the buyers and the sellers".
If its shares were trading in the region of R20, "the chances of survival would have been a lot better", he said.
"I don't think that they [Steinhoff] have handled it very well.
"They haven't been extremely open and transparent, and they keep releasing these irritating, short announcements that don't give much clarity; we just want to know what's going on," he added.
Steinhoff's catalogue of disasters can be traced back to 2015, when German authorities raised red flags over the company'saccounting practices.Shares fell by almost 90%.
Steinhoff's German arm now also faces a lawsuit from law firm TILP, by investors looking to recover their funds from the company.
The firm claims that shareholders who bought the stock between December 2015 and 2017 were not sufficiently informed about the issues at Steinhoff.
An investor who did not want to named saidthe complacency of South African regulators, including the JSE, formed part of the issues at Steinhoff.
"German regulators had already flagged it in 2015 and all they needed to do was an investigation and see whether there was any merit to the allegations made by the German authorities," the investor said.The investor added that while the Steinhoff board claimed it had conducted its own investigation, "I said they must publish a response ... they said that they hired third parties to investigate whether there was merit to what the German authorities were saying.
"How could all these systems fail? Was it because they were getting paid a lot of money?
"If you think about the listing fees and all those things ... the JSE was getting some large revenue from Steinhoff."
However, JSE CEO Nicky Newton-Kingtold Business Times that the bourse did not disclose the share of revenue it received from particular counters.
"Steinhoff was important, but by no means the most important stock of the JSE."Any suggestion that Steinhoff revenue we get from associated activity in Steinhoff had any impact on any decisions is completely without any foundation.
"That would be an abuse of our regulatory responsibilities," said Newton-King.
She was adamant that suspension penalised investors, not the company, saying: "We would only suspend if they did not comply with the listing requirements, or [the German bourse] would suspend it overseas, or if there was unequal distribution of information.
"If we ran a business that allowed shoddy regulatory standards or companies to remain in the environment, [and] essentially acted in a manner that prejudiced investors, we would have no business.
"The logic that you go soft on clients because they are big clients is just a logic that I can't identify with.
"What is important is that we run a regulatory environment that people can trust and that is predictable."

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