Shares of NQ Mobile (NQ) fell nearly 30 percent in the shortened pre-holiday July 3 trading day after PricewaterhouseCoopers announced they were expanding their fraud investigation into alleged securities fraud on the part of the Chinese software company.
Of particular interest to shareholders of the company were hints that NQ is not cooperating with external investigators. In the midst of the investigation NQ both suddenly replaced the chair of the audit committee and reportedly stalled on requests from PricewaterhouseCoopers for more detailed information on their financials.
And still, NQ has failed to provide its 2013 fiscal year financial report. All this adds up to increased ammunition for NQ’s army of cynics, who have called this company an outright fraud since last fall.
Short Getting Deeper
The major accusation against NQ originate from famed short seller Muddy Waters, who have long stood by accusations that the company is almost certainly a house of cards built on fabricated user numbers and greatly exaggerated revenues.
A subsequent audit commissioned by NQ found no discrepancies that indicated fraud, sending shares into recovery mode. A major deal with Sprint (S) to incorporate NQ software into Sprint phones galvanized the company’s supporters, and gave credence to counter-accusations that Muddy Water’s campaign against NQ was simply a case of a short-seller trying to capitalize on a resulting equity sell-off.
That first audit, undertaken by Deloitte, did little to convince the investors who took bearish bets against NQ. Carson Block, the brains behind Muddy Waters, stuck steadfastly to his opinion that the company was primed for complete collapse. According to Block, the Deloitte exoneration (conducted in conjunction with NQ directors) was just another scam, and he told Reuters that the Deloitte audit was “just another in a long line of whitewashes carried out by China companies that are defrauding U.S. investors, written by directors in China who have no accountability to U.S. authorities."
Since Block’s salvo, the short float on NQ – which was already sizable – has metastasized. On May 30, the portion of shares bet against the company stood at 44.33%. On July 3, that number had grown to 48.97%, making NQ the most heavily shorted stock in the entire Tech sector.
Are NQ Investors Masochists?
So what keeps investors coming back to NQ? The company certainly has its legitimate backers, counting both Sprint and Samsung (SSNLF) as partners. The allure of potential profits to be made from contrarianism also helps considerably. If such a large percentage of investors are shorting the stock the share price could get squeezed up – that is, if the calls expire before auditors fail to uncover fraud in time, either via NQ’s stalling or (possibly) because there is no fraud to uncover.
Either way the price action of NQ, which sports substantially higher volume than should be expected of a small-cap tech play, should remain highly interesting for the foreseeable future, as either the bulls or the bears get rich on this battleground stock.
As the July 3 half trading concluded, shares of NQ Mobile had fallen 32.25 percent to hit $4.58 a share. The company's stock has fallen 57.91% on the year.
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