I am as morbidly fascinated by developments at Steinhoff as the next investor. Though the preference-share dividend will be paid, the group’s unaudited half-year results, released late last week, offered little that was tangible for desperate shareholders to cling to ahead of the conclusion of the PwC forensic investigation and the release of audited numbers. I fret for friends and associates who are dabbling optimistically in this complicated mess. As with previous corporate meltdowns such as Tollgate and LeisureNet, a fixation with so-called "quality operating assets" can blind value-seeking investors to the unbelievable damage that can be caused when dominant executives are given leeway to express their "genius" by stretching a balance sheet dangerously thin in pursuit of lofty goals. A focus on liabilities is far more prudent, if only to curb misplaced optimism, though I suspect the full extent of these won’t be clear for a while. It seems that the value proposition at Steinhoff...

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