Did Muddy Waters really do anything wrong?

Did Muddy Waters really do anything wrong?
Above photo is research director and founder of Muddy Waters Research LLC, Carson Block.

The role of financial research firm Muddy Waters (MW) in this week's plunge in the shares of commodities firm Olam International has come under intense scrutiny, with most observers critical of MW for indulging in reverse front-running: it short-sold Olam's shares before going public with its reservations about Olam's financials.

The fact that Olam's price duly crashed after those reservations were aired fuelled criticism since MW presumably then made a killing from its actions.

Speak to dealers and close market watchers and it's clear that some believe MW may be guilty of unethical behaviour and maybe even manipulation.

"You can't short a stock and then tell the world the company is lousy and that it might collapse any time," said one observer.

 

Really? How is this different from a large investor buying into a company first, then declaring that he, she or it is bullish on that company?

Why should a short-sale and bearish declaration be viewed differently from a purchase-cum-bullish announcement?

 

Based on what is currently publicly known, should MW be taken to task for its actions - or is this simply a case of emotions running high, resulting in allegations being made in the heat of the moment that upon close examination don't stand up?

Olam, on its part, has said it is taking legal action against the US firm.

 

The saga by now should be familiar: At an investment conference in London on Monday, MW's research director Carson Block said his firm thought Olam was in danger of collapsing under its debt load.

 

Mr Block also raised issues over Olam's accounting for biological assets, described Olam's finances as being not a black box but a "black hole" instead, and revealed that because of its concerns, MW was short on Olam's stock.

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