Olam should act smartly, rationally

Olam should act smartly, rationally

As the two sides keep up the fire on each other, the collateral damage continues to mount, with no end in sight to the skirmishes.

No, it's not the Middle East we are talking about, but last week's sniping between homegrown, listed wholesaler of agricultural products Olam International and US short-selling firm Muddy Waters.

Shareholders of Olam continue to have sleepless nights as the mud-slinging, counter-accusations and threats are ratcheted up.

Olam plunged 21 per cent in over-the-counter trading in New York last Monday, after Muddy Water's Carson Block dumped the stock, alleging that the company was booking profits on transactions before booking in the deals.

In a damning assessment to the market, he told the Ira Sohn Investment Conference in London that Olam was "heavily" indebted and overly aggressive in how it reports what it calls "biological gains" on investments; Mr Block essentially charged that the company was on the verge of collapse.

Olam quickly suspended the stock on the Singapore Exchange the next day, and aggressively defended itself against what it said were unsubstantiated and malicious attacks.

Its CEO Sunny Verghese said he was "dismayed at the nature and lack of substance" of Mr Block's comments, and vowed that the group would stoutly defend its reputation for transparency and good governance.

By Thursday evening, Olam had initiated legal action against both Muddy Waters and Mr Block for "aggravated and exemplary damages, for libel, slander and malicious falsehood".

Things will only get worse before they get any better.

This is not the first time Mr Block or Muddy Waters has bet against companies which they allege have dodgy businesses or business practices.

In June last year, Muddy Waters shorted the stock of Canada-based Sino-Forest Corp, accusing it of fraud.

Its strategy is simple: find a plausible fault, short-sell the stock and spill it to the market that the company is a cheat on the brink of collapse.

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