Chinese Firm's Unusual Boardroom Battle Grabs Traders' Attention

  • Shares end week 6.4% higher, biggest advance in three months
  • Traders are speculating dispute may spur share buybacks

A Chinese restaurant chain turned Internet firm is gripped in an unusual boardroom battle that some stock traders are viewing as a speculative opportunity.

Employees were locked out of Cloud Live Technology Group Co.’s office from Jan. 24 to Feb. 6, according to a statement by the board of directors on Tuesday, amid a tussle between Meng Kai, the company’s biggest shareholder and former president, and the current management. Shares recorded their biggest weekly rise since November, with trading volume the most since early December.

“Investors are buying shares on expectations that their battle may spur the executives to acquire stock from the secondary market," said Yin Ming, Shanghai-based vice president of Baptized Capital.

Meng last month made a proposal to hold an extraordinary general meeting to decide on firing current Chairman and President Wang Yuhao as a director. While the board of directors blocked that proposal, the company’s supervisory board planned to proceed with the vote, according to separate statements from Cloud Live’s two governing bodies. Under Chinese company law, firms must have two boards.

The directors’ board added they could not verify whether the motion, sent in the name of “controlling holder Meng Kai” from an email address not registered with the company, was actually from Meng. The dispute took another turn on Thursday, when the supervisory board said it was postponing the EGM until Feb. 27, partly because Cloud Live’s board secretary office failed to provide notice of the meeting to investors. The board of directors doesn’t agree that the EGM resolution is legally binding, they said.

An employee from the directors’ board office, who refused to be named, declined to comment when reached by Bloomberg News by phone. Meng could not be reached for comment by Bloomberg News, and Cloud Live declined to provide contact details.

It’s been a bumpy road for Cloud Live investors, with the stock suspended for about 18 months in the past three years and down more than 40 percent from an October 2014 peak. Meng stepped down as Cloud Live’s chairman and president in January 2015. The company was at the center of China’s second onshore corporate bond default, missing payments due April 2015, until a Beijing-based asset management firm fulfilled the obligation in January 2016.

Meng hired security to protect the company’s property and interests, and the barring of employees from the office was a misunderstanding, Cloud Live’s board of directors cited Meng as saying to the company via an email sent on Jan. 25. Staff got the police to help them get back to work this week, according to the statement. Meng had at least a 22.7 percent stake in Cloud Live as of the third quarter last year, according to the company’s earnings report.

Cloud Live was formerly Beijing Xiangeqing Co., which operated a chain of restaurants. It said in July 2014 that it was shifting into the Internet business and changed its name in August 2014. The shares completed a weekly advance of 6.4 percent on Friday, compared with a 2.1 percent gain for the Shenzhen Composite Index.

— With assistance by Amanda Wang

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