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Island-domiciled Noble wins survival vote

Restructuring approval: Bermudian-domiciled Noble Group will wipe out half of its debt through a restructuring plan backed yesterday by shareholders (Photograph by Nicky Loh/Bloomberg)

Shareholders of troubled Bermudian-domiciled commodity trader Noble Group Ltd yesterday backed a $3.5 billion debt restructuring plan to keep the company afloat.

Noble, which is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange and has headquarters in Hong Kong, but is incorporated in Bermuda, has been in crisis for three years.

The company’s collapse started in February 2015, after Arnaud Vagner, a former employee, published reports anonymously under the name of Iceberg Research and accused Noble of inflating its assets.

The upheaval triggered a share price collapse, credit downgrades, writedowns and asset sales. Noble has stood by its accounting practices.

The company had a market capitalisation of about $6 billion before Iceberg’s claims surfaced. Yesterday its market value was about $145 million. It posted a $128 million loss for the second quarter of this year.

The deal approved by shareholders at a special general meeting in Singapore yesterday will wipe out half of the company’s debt.

Creditors will own 70 per cent of the revamped company, with shareholders receiving a 20 per cent stake and management 10 per cent.

According to the Registrar of Companies listing, Noble Group was incorporated in Bermuda in March 1994.

Mak Yuen Teen, an associate professor of accounting who specialises in corporate governance at the National University of Singapore Business School, told Bloomberg News that Noble’s case posed challenges for Singapore regulators because of the company’s Bermuda incorporation.

That means “many of the core corporate governance requirements relating to director duties and shareholder rights in the Singapore Companies Act would not apply”, he said.