May 24, 2018 / 6:23 AM / a year ago

Samsonite hit by short-seller attack; shares slump to 9-month low

HONG KONG, May 24 (Reuters) - Shares in Samsonite International SA fell to a 9-month low on Thursday after a short seller issued a report saying the world’s largest luggage maker had questionable accounting practices and poor corporate governance.

Blue Orca Capital said the owner of the Tumi brand had concealed slowing growth through debt-fuelled acquisitions and had used accounting methods to massage earnings and inflate profit margins.

“Samsonite is a mid-level brand masquerading as a premium luxury player,” the short seller said in its report. “Samsonite is more sensibly compared to a peer group of mid-tier brands.”

Samsonite, which has a market value of $5.6 billion, has requested a share trading halt pending a statement on the matter and will not comment further at this time, an executive told Reuters by telephone on condition of anonymity.

The company’s spokespeople did not answer an email or telephone calls seeking comment.

Blue Orca said it valued Samsonite at HK$17.59 a share, 43 percent below its last traded price of HK$30.70.

Prior to the late morning trading halt, Samsonite stock had fallen as much as 12.2 percent to HK$29.90, the lowest since Aug. 24. That compared with a 0.1 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Samsonite’s shares hit a record high of HK$38.60 on April 4 on strong sales of Tumi-branded goods and market expectations of further improvement in the luxury retail sector.

Among 14 analysts that cover Samsonite, the current average recommendation on the shares was “buy”, Thomson Reuters data showed. The breakdown was nine “strong buy” or “buy”, three “hold” and two “sell” or “strong sell”. The mean price target was HK$38.07.

Blue Orca was launched earlier this month by Soren Aandahl, a Texas-based short-seller who previously co-founded Glaucus Research, which attracted attention for its attacks on several targets in Asia-Pacific.

Glaucus’ most recent target was Australia-listed fund manager Blue Sky Alternative Investments Ltd, whose shares have fallen 76 percent since Glaucus claimed in late March that Blue Sky had over-valued assets and exaggerated its performance. Blue Sky said the claims were incorrect and misleading.

Last week, Samsonite posted an 18.6 percent year-on-year increase in profit at $43.9 million for the January-March quarter, with net sales rising 21.1 percent to $888.2 million.

Samsonite said its gross profit margin was 56.5 percent at the end of March, from 55.3 percent a year earlier, due to a higher proportion of net sales coming from the direct-to-consumer channel and increased sales of Tumi-branded goods. ($1 = 7.8473 Hong Kong dollars)

Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Christopher Cushing

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