China Rongsheng Heavy Industries Group Holdings Ltd., which hasn’t announced any 2012 ship orders, may find winning deals even harder as a company owned by its billionaire chairman faces an insider-trading probe.
China’s biggest shipbuilder outside state control tumbled 16 percent yesterday in Hong Kong after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said traders including Chairman Zhang Zhi Rong’s Well Advantage Ltd. made more than $13 million of illegal profits buying shares of Nexen Inc. ahead of a takeover announcement by Cnooc Ltd. The SEC also won a court order freezing about $38 million of the traders’ assets.
The investigation may deter customers from placing orders, Jon Windham, an analyst at Barclays Plc., said yesterday by phone. “It’s obviously very bad for the overall image of the company.” He downgraded the stock to underweight from equalweight and cut its target price to HK$1.06 from HK$2.40.
Rongsheng, based in Shanghai, has tumbled 87 percent since a November 2010 initial public offering because of concerns about delivery delays and a global slump in ship orders caused by a glut of vessels. The shipbuilder, which operates facilities in Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, also said yesterday that first-half profit probably dropped “significantly” because of falling prices and slowing orders.
The demand slump has pushed new-ship prices to an eight-year low, according to shipbroker Clarkson Plc. Chinese shipyard orders plunged 49 percent in the first half.
Rongsheng dropped 8.6 percent to HK$1.07 as of the close in Hong Kong trading today. The city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index rose 1.1 percent.
Kevin Chong, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG, lowered his target price to HK$0.7 from HK$1.6 and maintained a sell rating.
The probe won’t affect day-to-day operations run by Chief Executive Officer Chen Qiang, as Chairman Zhang only has a non-executive role, Rongsheng said in a statement yesterday. Zhang wasn’t available for comment yesterday, according to Doris Chung, public relations manager at Glorious Property Holdings Ltd., a developer he controls.
Chen isn’t aware of Zhang’s personal business dealings and he has no plans to leave Rongsheng, he said yesterday by text message in reply to Bloomberg News questions. The CEO may help reassure potential customers as he is well-known among shipowners, said Lawrence Li, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian Holdings Ltd.
“They know that Chen Qiang is quite good,” he said. “Still, in the short term, shipowners may have some concerns about the chairman’s case.”
Zhang owns 46 percent of Rongsheng and 64 percent of Glorious Property, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The developer dropped 1.7 percent to close at HK$1.16 in Hong Kong today after falling 11 percent yesterday. Zhang’s listed holdings are worth about $1.2 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Zhang, who holds a Master’s of Business Administration degree from Asia Macau International Open University, started in building materials and construction subcontracting before getting into real estate. Construction of his first project, in Shanghai, began in 1996, according to Glorious Property’s IPO prospectus. He got into shipbuilding after discussing the idea with Chen at a Shanghai Young Entrepreneurs’ Association event in 2001, according to Rongsheng’s sale document. He formed the company that grew into Rongsheng three years later.
‘Legend’ of Zhang
“People in his hometown think Zhang is a legend as he expanded two companies in different sectors so quickly,” said Ji Fenghua, chairman of Nantong Mingde Group, a shipyard located next to Rongsheng’s facility in Nantong city, Jiangsu province. The billionaire maintains a low profile, said Ji, who has never seen him at meetings organized by the local government.
Rongsheng raised HK$14 billion in its 2010 IPO, selling shares at HK$8 each. The company’s market value has fallen by about $6.1 billion to $1 billion, based on data compiled by Bloomberg.
The shipbuilder has had delays as it builds 16 of the world’s biggest commodity ships for Vale SA and Oman Shipping Co. It was supposed to hand over eight of the ships last year, according to its IPO prospectus. Instead, it only delivered one. It had handed over two more to Vale by May 20. The same month, it christened two for Oman Shipping, Xinhua reported.
The company’s cash reserves have also declined. It had 6.3 billion yuan of cash and cash equivalents at the end of December down from 10.4 billion yuan a year earlier. Its short-term borrowings rose to 18.2 billion yuan from 10.1 billion yuan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Rongsheng, which also makes engines and excavators, had outstanding orders for 98 ships as of June 2012, according to Clarkson. It employed 7,046 people at the end of last year, according to its annual report. The shipbuilder has built a pipe-laying vessel for Cnooc and it has a strategic cooperation agreement with the energy company.
Well Advantage and other unknown traders stockpiled shares of Nexen before Cnooc announced plans to buy the Calgary-based energy company for $15.1 billion, according to the SEC. The regulator acted to freeze accounts less than 24 hours after Well Advantage placed an order to liquidate its position, it said. The investigation continues, it said July 27.
The traders may have to pay multiples of the profit they made from illegal deals to settle the case, based on previous incidents, said David Webb, the founder of corporate-governance website Webb-site.com. The frozen accounts may make a settlement more probable as the traders won’t be able to access cash, he said. Still, there may be a long-term impact on reputations.
“Cases such as this bring the integrity of the persons involved into question,” Webb said. “And, if they are running a bank or a listed company, then it tends to tarnish the firm too.”