In a move that is likely to have many investors in China concept stock scratching their heads the Chinese government has further restricted access to SAIC filings, often used as the start of any due diligence on a Chinese investment. The new rules make it virtually impossible to get detailed financials, as filed to the Chinese government, without the expressed consent of the company involved.
While there are limits to what you can tell by comparing SAIC filings to those made by the company overseas it is nonetheless the preferred starting point of most DD professionals and can act as a good road map for where to look in more detail. So restricting, or in effect banning, access to these files will cause some very real problems for investors looking to confirm the validity of a company’s financial statements.
Some are speculating that the reason behind the new restrictions is the use of SAIC filings in short reports written by muddy waters et al. While this may well be true, the effects of the policy will likely be much more widespread as the filings are also used to confirm financial information by investors looking to take long positions in Chinese companies. Perhaps most interestingly, checking SAIC filings was always a relatively cheap way to get some level of confirmation about a company’s financials. The alternatives that we are left with are likely considerably more time consuming and expensive, so these restrictions are potentially putting a higher value on reliable China DD.
The timing of the change in policy could also have been better, coming on the back of delistings, companies unable to file financials on time, and changes in ownership of the big 4 in China this adds more uncertainty that foreign listed Chinese companies certainly don’t need right now. Something that may prompt companies to act on their own to provide some level of transparency for their investors.
In such an uncertain climate, one way to assuage investor concerns might be to grant any holder of a company’s ADS the right to review its SAIC filings. Whether this will happen or not investors are unlikely to act in a positive manner to restrictions in their ability to double check companies in a sector historically prone to misstatements and frauds.