HOTLINE: What do we know about Iceberg Research? Not much

Following the release of a report containing numerous allegations about Singapore-listed trading company Noble Group, one key question has repeatedly been asked and remains without an answer – just who are (or is) Iceberg Research?

Following the release of a report containing numerous allegations about Singapore-listed trading company Noble Group, one key question has repeatedly been asked and remains without an answer – just who are (or is) Iceberg Research?

Iceberg has said it cannot give information on its identity “for the moment”, and that it will “review its anonymity policy if necessary”, suggesting it might reveal itself eventually. This has led to a flurry of activity among journalists, analysts and others in recent days as they scramble for clues.

Most people with whom Hotline has discussed the matter have said Iceberg appeared simply to “come out of nowhere”.

It has a website and a Twitter account, but there are no phone numbers, no names, no addresses, not even a vague suggestion of a geographical location – so far, so mysterious.

Here’s what we know (and it’s not much):

The report was published on a Wordpress site and communication with Iceberg (so far) is solely through a Gmail account.

To sign up to either Wordpress or Gmail, users must supply at least some personal details, and in the case of Wordpress, where a domain name has been purchased, presumably payment details.

Of course, neither Wordpress nor Gmail would give out their users’ personal information. To get hold of it, a court order would be required, according to reports. Whether Noble is likely to take such an approach is not known.

Emails received from Iceberg oscillate between using “we” and “I”, and it’s not clear whether the same person has written each one.

Emails have been sent late morning to late afternoon, London time, which might imply the firm is in Europe or the USA. There have been rumours to the effect that it may be based on the east coast of the USA, according to one source.

Meanwhile, in its release confirming that its ratings on Noble have not been affected by the report, ratings agency Standard and Poor’s refers to Iceberg as a “UK-based research house”, without going into further detail on its likely location.

According to its Twitter account, Iceberg is not shorting Noble and is not making any money – but this hasn’t stopped speculation about the nature of the endeavour.

Whoever is running the account has tweeted five times, all on the subject of Noble, and has so far amassed more than 200 followers.

A total of eight accounts are being followed, most of whom are journalists, but the number also includes Activist Shorts Research, which describes itself as “an independent database dedicated to tracking activist short-seller campaigns.”

There are obvious parallels with outfits such as Muddy Waters Research, which has published critical reports of numerous companies, leading to large falls in share prices.

One comparison cited in more than one quarter is Olam International, an agricultural company that was the subject of a Muddy Waters report in 2013 and saw its share price on the Singapore Exchange tumble.

There are a couple of key differences with Iceberg, however: one is that Muddy Waters has a public face in Carson Block, and the other is that it states that it may short the companies it covers.

Noble has been clear in its position, meanwhile: it completely rejects the allegations, and has said it welcomes the news that the matter has been referred to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

What’s more, it has stated that it does not know who Iceberg is (or are), and neither do any of its external banking or investor stakeholders.

There has also been some speculation over the significance of the name Iceberg – are we to infer that this is only the tip of what’s to come? Or perhaps there is some connection to idea that an iceberg has the ability to bring down mighty vessels?

Or maybe it’s a reference to an “iceberg order”, in which a large single order of securities is divided into smaller lots so that the actual order quantity is hidden?

In its most recent emails, Iceberg has said it will comment again on its website soon, although it’s not clear what form this will take, or what the timeframe will be.

It also stated it will be covering other companies in future.

In the meantime, Hotline will be keeping an eye out for the next report, which will focus on “continuing operations (energy and metals)”.

editorial@metalbulletin.com

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