How to Identify Fraudulent Companies

20170711 thief

The last thing investors wants to see is losing their hard-earned money in the stock market. But wait, there’s an even worse situation. That’s when they lose their hard-earned money invested in fraudulent companies with no way to recoup their investments. We have witnessed many examples in US stock markets, who doesn’t remember about the Enron & Worldcom scandal?

Closer to the region, in Singapore, there are many vivid cases on how failed companies ruined people’s life, mostly their minority shareholders. The so-called retail investors are always at the receiving end of the bad news when it imploded. Sometimes without any avenues to reclaim their original investment. Who are these fraudulent companies? For the uninitiated, more than 90% of frauds are caused by S-Chips. Hence, the ultimate question for investors is: “How to detect for any red flags?” In other words, how to leave the “parties” before the music stops abruptly?

Firstly, let’s do a quick line-up on what are the list of proven fraudulent companies in the context of SGX (Singapore stock exchange) universe. They are as follows:

20170711 Schips

Secondly, how can an investor detect for any red flags in any of these companies mentioned above? The following are the top 13 identified – in no sequential order:

  1. Significant levels of cash & cash equivalents, yet unwilling to pay dividends
  2. Dividends not declared despite net profit position
  3. Major shareholder selling off shares below IPO price
  4. Right issue at a price way below cash value of the company
  5. Right issue despite significant huge cash balance in the balance sheet
  6. Draw down of bank credit lines even when there is a positive cash balance
  7. Net non-cash settlement of trade debts and payable
  8. Trade receivables long outstanding (not converted to cash)
  9. Non-proportional increase of trade receivables compared to increase in sales
  10. Significant capital expenditure with no apparent upgrade in P&E or increase in production capacity
  11. Profits generated not translating to “net cash from operations”
  12. Sudden resignation of independent auditor in the absence of any disagreements with management
  13. Sudden resignation of CFO

Finally, as an investor, how can we avoid such pitiful situations in the first place? There are few critical steps here:

  1. Look at the company history… generally companies with longer history (>20 years) are less-susceptible to such fraud
  2. Look at the independent auditor’s report at the Annual Report… whether auditor issues any qualified opinion. We need to dig deeper in case the auditor issues qualified opinion.
  3. Look at the company’s customers profile… are there any big company names? Big companies generally already have a due-diligence process (i.e. KYS – Know Your Supplier) in place for their suppliers.
  4. Attend its AGM (Annual General Makan), I mean Annual General Meeting… whether the CEO and board of directors are willing to answer shareholders’ questions? Are they friendly or hostile? Or, they don’t even bother to attend the AGM?

These are the four easy steps that a beginner investor can use to avoid putting themselves into such mess. In the end, it’s our hard-earned money. If not we ourselves, who else will look after?

 

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