To Olam CEO Sunny Verghese and the Board of Directors:
In the two and one-half years Muddy Waters, LLC has been openly criticizing publicly-traded companies, we have not seen a response as defensive as yours – not even from Sino-Forest. On Monday, our Director of Research gave a brief talk on Olam at a well-respected charity event. He presented facts about Olam along with Muddy Waters’s opinion that Olam is at risk of collapsing due to multiple factors, including its debt load. As Olam has since said, his comments were not overly substantive. But based on this alone, Olam halted its stock, scheduled two conference calls, discussed buying back shares, and issued statements that included saying it is not a “fly-by-night company”. It has further evidenced a bizarre fixation on baseball caps.
Olam’s disproportionate reaction is extraordinary in our experience. Should Olam come to collapse (as we believe it will), its use of much-needed cash to buy back shares at this time should give rise to questions about whether fiduciary responsibilities have been breached – particularly given the possible existence of individual motivations that are not necessarily aligned with those of Olam’s lenders. We also note Olam’s attempts to impugn our credibility.
You and your investors should note that attempting to silence critics is not a plan of corrective action. In no way does it make Olam stronger. The February 2011 CLSA report, which raised far fewer concerns than we have identified internally, and that Olam itself made so controversial, should have caused you to work toward repairing what ails your business and your balance sheet. Instead, Olam has since increased its a) debt load by approximately S$900 million, b) cumulative investment cash burn by approximately S$2 billion, and c) cumulative operating cash burn by approximately S$500 million. In other words, you did the exact opposite of what you should have done. Your actions have been an abject failure of leadership.
Companies that attack criticism the way Olam does fail to understand that raising money from the public is a privilege. Because Olam has received significant investment from the government of Singapore, Olam’s mismanagement of the public trust is that much less forgivable. Know this: You voluntarily came to the market, you subjected yourselves to its forces, and you must bear the consequences of your ineptitude.
We do not work for an investment bank, and cannot be bullied the way other analysts can. Our research into Olam has been exhaustive, and we plan to resolutely stand by it regardless of any attempts you might make to discredit it or us.
We therefore suggest you find better uses of your time than focusing on criticism. For instance, you might want to work on plans to reign in your CapEx and de-leverage. The clock is likely ticking.
Muddy Waters, LLC
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