For several years, Friday has been the day when the latest bank closures are announced (about which see further below). More recently, Friday also seems to be the day when the latest securities class actions involving Chinese companies are announced. This past Friday alone, three more securities suits involving Chinese companies were announced. Signs are that there are more to come. A brief description of the three latest cases follows.
Puda Coal: The first of the three latest Chinese suits involves Puda Coal, Inc., an NYSE company that is a Delaware corporation but which has its headquarters in Shanxi Province in China. There have actually been two separate lawsuits filed against Puda, one in the Southern District of New York (refer to the complaint here), and one in the Central District of California (here).
As reflected in plaintiffs’ counsel’s press release (here), the allegation is that Puda’s assets were transferred to a subsidiary of which Puda’s Chairman of the Board obtained control through a series of transactions, enabling the Chairman to profit personally from the sale of a minority interest in the subsidiary to a private equity firm. Following an internet website’s disclosures of the transactions, the company’s share price declined. In an April 11, 2011 press release (here), the company announced that its board had adopted the recommendation of the company’s audit committee to investigate the Chairman’s “unauthorized” transactions involving the subsidiary.
Subaye, Inc.: According to their April 15, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs’ lawyers have initiated a securities class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against Subaye, Inc. and certain of its directors and officers. Subaye is a Delaware Corporation with its headquarters in Guangdong, China.
According to the press release, the complaint (which can be found here) was filed in the wake of the company’s April 7, 2011 announcement that its auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong had withdrawn and that prior to its resignation the audit firm had identified matters that might affect the fairness of the company’s previously issued financial statements. The press release states that
PwC’s was unable to obtain information and supporting documentation to verify: (a) cash settlements from sales agents to Subaye, (b) the end customer subscriptions for the Company’s services and the services rendered to the end customers, (c) marketing and promotion activities performed by sales agents in return for fees paid to such agents and recorded as expenses of the Company. PwC also stated that Subaye provided insufficient explanations regarding commonalities between certain customers and vendors. Lastly, PwC could find no evidence of any business tax payments by the Company for services rendered in China.
Universal Travel Group: According to their April 15, 2011 press release (here), plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed a securities class action lawsuit in the District of New Jersey against Universal Travel Group and certain of its directors and officers. Universal Travel is a Nevada corporation based in Shenzen, China.
The Universal Travel group lawsuit follows a March 2011 securities analyst’s report raising questions about the company’s business, its reported cash balances and revenues, and its relationship with an online travel service. The report stated that there were large differences between the revenues that a newly acquired subsidiary had reported to Chinese authorities and the revenues that Universal Travel reported.
In an April 14, 2011 press release (here), the Company announced that it had hired a new auditor after its prior auditor resigned because “it was no longer able to complete the audit process” due to “the Company’s management and/or the Audit Committee being non-responsive, unwilling or reluctant to proceed in good faith and imposing scope limitations on [the auditor’s] audit procedures.”
These three new securities class action lawsuits follow closely on the heels of the four accounting-related lawsuits involving Chinese companies filed earlier this month, as I noted in a prior blog post (here). With these three latest lawsuits, there have now been a total of 14 securities class action lawsuits filed against Chinese and China-liked companies in 2011, out of a total of about 61 securities lawsuits that have filed so far this year, meaning that the suits against Chinese companies represent about 23% of all securities lawsuits filed so far this year. Ten of these have been filed just in the last 30 days.
The signs are that this recent outburst of new lawsuit filings involving Chinese companies will likely continue. Plaintiffs’ law firms continue to publish press releases that they are “investigating” still other Chinese companies (refer for example, here and here) For that matter, the cascade of news raising questions about accounting practices involving some Chinese companies shows no signs of abating.
As Walter Pavlo notes on his White-Collar Crime blog on Forbes.com (here), many of the Chinese companies involved in this rash of lawsuits obtained their U.S. listings through reverse mergers with a publicly traded U.S. shell company. In a later post (here), he also noted that many of these firms have the same auditors and used the same investment bank in their reverse merger transaction.
In an April 4, 2011 speech (here), SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar noted that the problems arising involving Chinese companies that have obtained U.S. listing are a serious concern and that the SEC in cooperation with other organizations including the PCAOB is investigating the concerns that have arisen. Among other things, he noted that “a growing number” of these companies “are proving to have significant accounting deficiencies or being vessels of outright fraud.”
According to Commission Aguilar, since January 2007 over 150 Chinese companies have obtained U.S. listings using what he characterized as “backdoor registrations.” While not all of these companies are engaged in the kinds of activities described in the case summaries above, there definitely seems to be a pattern of involvement in conflicts of interest or accounting issues. The rash of recent resignations of the outside auditors from these companies suggests that the audit firms have had their consciences raised about the dangers of becoming associated with these kinds of firms and accounting issues they may be having.
In any event, it seems likely that there will be further lawsuits involving these Chinese companies. David Bario’s April 4, 2011 Am Law Litigation Daily article profiling the plaintiffs’ lawyer behind many of these lawsuits can be found here.
Bank Failures Not Over Yet: Speaking of bank failures (as I was at the outset of this post), it now appears that my recent prediction that the bank failure wave may finally be over might have been premature. This past Friday night, the FDIC closed six more banks, bringing the year to date total number of bank closures to 34. While that is fewer than the 49 banks that had been closed at this point last year, the closure of six banks at one time does cut against the suggestion that the FDIC is winding down its bank closure activities.
With the addition of the latest six bank closures, the total number of banks that have failed since January 1, 2008 stands at 356. Of this total, 51 involve banks located in Georgia (including two of the six banks closed this past Friday night). After a while you do start to wonder if there how there could be any banks left in Georgia.
As I have noted elsewhere, the FDIC has still only brought a total of six lawsuits involving former directors and officers of the bank. However, on April 13, 2011, the FDIC did update the Professional Liability Lawsuits page on its website, to indicate the number of persons against who lawsuits have been authorized has been increased by 187 (up from the prior month’s total of 158). However, the six lawsuits filed to date involved only 42 individual defendants, which suggests that there are quite a number of lawsuit in the pipeline and yet to be filed. The updated page also notes that the FDIC has also authorized “11 fidelity bond, attorney malpractice, and appraiser malpractice lawsuits.”
Special thanks to the loyal readers who alerted me to the most recent bank closures and to the recent update to the FDIC website.
105 Years Ago Today: A rare 35 mm film of San Francisco just four days before the April 18, 1906 earthquake has been “found.” The person that send me a YouTube link to the file reports that “This film was originally thought to be from 1905 until David Kiehn with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum figured out exactly when it was shot –from New York trade papers announcing the film showing, to the wet streets from recent heavy rainfall & shadows indicating time of year & actual weather and conditions on historical record, even when the cars were registered (he even knows who owned them and when the plates were issued!).”
The film, which was shot by mounting a camera on the front end of a cable car, is simply amazing. The clock tower at the end of Market Street at the Embarcadero wharf is still there. The number of automobiles on the road in 1906 is staggering. The absolute chaotic traffic suggests that rules of the road were a later invention.
There is an element of sadness too in the film, as so much of the city was destroyed days later and as many as 3000 people died in the quake and in the fire that followed. The film is a remarkable piece of history. Special thanks to the loyal reader who sent me the link.