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How China Small-Caps Can Come Clean

Rick Pearson is a Beijing-based private investor focusing on U.S.-listed China small-cap stocks. He is a contributing writer to TheStreet whose views on these stocks are independent of TheStreet's news coverage.

BEIJING (TheStreet) -- On Nov. 19, a certain company listed in the U.S. issued the following press release:

(the "Company") today announced that it will restate its previously issued financial statements for fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009 and the first three quarters of fiscal year 2010 (including the quarterly data for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and its selected financial data for the relevant periods), due to errors identified in these financial statements. This decision was made by the Company's board of directors, upon the recommendation of the audit committee and in consultation with management. As a result of this decision, investors should no longer rely upon the Company's previously released financial statements for these periods and any earnings releases or other communications relating to these periods.
If this were a Chinese small-cap, the consequences would be predictable: widespread allegations of fraud, the stock would plummet 30%-50% and the usual five to 10 lawsuits would roll in within one week. But it wasn't a China small-cap. It was Green Mountain Coffee (GMCR), and instead of falling, the stock price rose 11% on the day because the restatement was somehow perceived to be not all that bad. So almost four full years of finanicals can no longer be relied upon, and it's "not all that bad!?"


2010 was a rough year for Chinese small-caps, with a number of earnings restatements, allegations of fraud and confirmed outright fraud cases. Companies who have been (rightly or wrongly) impacted include Fuqi International (FUQI), Rino International (RINO) Northeast Petroleum (NEP), China Sky One Medical (CSKI), China Biotics (CHBT), China Marine Food Group (CMFO), China Education Alliance (CEU) and Orient Paper (ONP).

I provide additional detail below, but the key conclusion is simple. Obviously, there does exist fraud in some portions of U.S.- listed China stocks. However, the real problem for the larger space as a whole is that these companies are immature in the U.S. capital markets and leave themselves very vulnerable to speculation of fraud even when none exists. As a result, valuations for the entire space have been depressed.

In my opinion, this immaturity in the capital markets can be witnessed in numerous areas including: lack of emphasis on submitting correct domestic State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) filings, use of unknown auditors, inaccurate and outdated websites, unprofessional reliance on free email services (such as Yahoo! or Gmail), as well as a lack of responsiveness to investors. None of these things are an absolute indication of fraud, but they do weaken general investor confidence and leave companies vulnerable to speculation by short-sellers. The good news is that many companies (the smart ones) are starting to realize these weaknesses and are beginning to change accordingly.

I address each of these points below.

Lack of emphasis on submitting correct domestic filings

By now, anyone who is familiar with the recent spate of short attacks is well aware that the first line of attack by shorts is to cite the fact that a company's SAIC filings do not match its SEC filings. At first, many investors fell for this ruse blindly and viewed it as concrete evidence of fraud causing massive selloffs in a number of small-cap names.

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