Steinhoff shares reach new lows as it faces German lawsuit
Innsworth Litigation Funding has begun building a case against Steinhoff and wants shareholder clients willing to sue, it said last week
Steinhoff’s share price sank to its worst level yet – and weakest since 2003 – after shedding another 34% on Wednesday to close at R4.62 following a meeting with its bankers in London on Tuesday and another class-action lawsuit being filed by investors against the global furniture retailer.
That brings Steinhoff’s market losses to about R220bn since announcing “accounting irregularities” to the market more than two weeks ago that have claimed the scalp of former CEO Markus Jooste and Christo Wiese as the retailer’s supervisory chairman.
Steinhoff’s decline is an astonishing reversal for a company that exactly one year ago was worth about R300bn and ranked the sixth-largest company on the JSE.
The lawsuit was filed in the Frankfurt district court, according to a statement from TILP law firm, by investors looking to recover funds from the company.
TILP is asking shareholders who bought stock between December 7 2015 and December 5 2017 to join the lawsuit on the basis that investors have suffered losses because the firm had not sufficiently informed capital markets about its issues.
The suit follows that of Innsworth Litigation Funding, a London-based unit of Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which has begun building a case against Steinhoff.
Steinhoff is also under investigation by German authorities for suspected accounting fraud.
Wiese, who was earlier in 2017 the third-richest man in SA, is now in a desperate hunt for cash. On Tuesday it was revealed he had sold R2.15bn worth of Shoprite shares — equivalent to about 10% of his total stake in the retailer.
Wiese has had to stump up a margin call on Steinhoff shares that he pledged to a consortium of banks in 2016, in which he raised $1.6bn to support Steinhoff’s acquisition of US group Mattress Firm.
But such has been Steinhoff’s share price collapse that the collateral of stock used against the loan — originally 628-million shares — is worth less than a quarter of the loan itself. Steinhoff itself has also raised R4.7bn in the past few days after selling 20.6-million shares in investment holding group PSG.
On Wednesday, the owner of Pepkor, Bradlows and Incredible Connection committed to a “resetting of governance” at the company, under the supervision of a board led by Heather Sonn and a new management team headed up by long-standing chief operating officer Danie van der Merwe.
But the company failed to reassure equity investors and, presumably bankers, after its presentation in which it admitted ignorance to the extent of accounting irregularities that are under scrutiny. Steinhoff cannot say when its audited 2017 financials will be released, nor when its restated 2016 financials will be ready.
It has also warned that up to €6bn worth of assets may not be “recoverable”.
This week, a Dutch court will hear an application, which was brought by Steinhoff’s former joint venture partners Andreas Siefert, for an order to investigate Steinhoff’s 2016 annual accounts. Siefert is questioning the accounting treatment of the Conforama joint venture.