Steinhoff Slumps to New Lows After Investors Sue in Germany

Updated on
  • German law firm TILP says shareholders seek to recover losses
  • Fresh blow comes after inconclusive banker meeting Tuesday

A Conforama store in Paris

Photographer: Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images

Steinhoff International Holdings NV edged closer to the brink as its shares plunged to new lows following an inconclusive meeting with bankers and investors sued the global retailer in Germany.

The case against the owner of Mattress Firm in the U.S. and Conforama in France was filed in Frankfurt district court, TILP law firm said in a statement on Wednesday. Investors are seeking to recover funds after the South African company reported accounting irregularities, causing the stock to slump about 90 percent over two weeks.

The shares slumped as much as 37 percent before trading 27 percent lower at 0.33 euros as of 12:22 p.m. in Frankfurt, where the company moved its primary listing from Johannesburg in 2015 as part of a breakneck expansion. More than 62 million shares traded, almost triple the three-month daily average.

The class-action-style lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is likely to be the first of many similar cases filed by investors angry over their losses. Innsworth Litigation Funding, a London-based unit of Paul Singer’s Elliott Management Corp., has begun building a case against Steinhoff and is seeking shareholder clients willing to sue, it said last week.

Read More: Why South Africa’s Steinhoff Could Be Next Enron: QuickTake Q&A

Deminor Recovery Services, a Brussels-based shareholder advisory group, has also invited institutional shareholders to register for a potential case. Investor action would come on top of lawsuits filed in three countries by a former business partner, Andreas Seifert.

The litigation is a fresh blow for Steinhoff, which attempted to appease lenders at a meeting in London on Tuesday. The company told the bankers that creditors were withdrawing support and that the magnitude of the accounting errors was still unknown, while adding that the retailer had been filing accounts without “detailed visibility” of the cash flows of individual operating companies. Steinhoff hasn’t disclosed any outcome of the talks.

TILP is asking shareholders that bought stock from Dec. 7, 2015, to Dec. 5, 2017, to join the lawsuit, saying investors suffered losses because the company didn’t sufficiently inform capital markets about its issues. Investor lawsuits against beleaguered companies have become more common in Europe in recent years, partly due to the presence of litigation funders, including Elliott’s Innsworth, which offer to cover the cost of legal cases in return for a share of the proceeds.

Steinhoff has hired PwC to investigate the accounts and has started to sell non-core assets to boost liquidity. Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste and billionaire Chairman Christo Wiese have both quit in the aftermath of the scandal. At the banker meeting, new interim CEO Danie van der Merwe and four other executives gave presentations on the financial strength of units including Conforama, Mattress Firm and Steinhoff Africa Retail Ltd., which operates more than 4,600 stores across 12 countries.

— With assistance by Renee Bonorchis

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