Exclusive: Noble chairman sees company's future as smaller, nimbler

Fri Jan 22, 2016 6:48am EST
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By Anshuman Daga and Denny Thomas

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Noble Group, Asia's biggest commodities trader, expects to ride out the market downturn and recover from recent accounting-related allegations by being nimbler and asset-light, its founder and chairman Richard Elman told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Noble was thrust into the spotlight a year ago when Iceberg Research published the first of three detailed reports on the company, alleging it inflated its assets by billions of dollars by inaccurately representing the value of its contracts.

Elman, 75, said he sees no further disruptions to the business from those claims, which Noble rejects. A board-appointed consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, found Noble had complied with international rules.

"Last year, we had to separate our business from rumor and gossip. We got attacked in a very low regulated environment," Elman said in his first media interview in three years. "We feel it's behind us. There is no reason for us to have any further disruption in that sense."

Elman is preparing Noble, a Hong Kong-based group he set up with $100,000 in 1986, for a new era as commodity prices are mired in their deepest slump in recent years.

"We need to go back to being modest and cautious and economical," he told Reuters at his 18th floor office overlooking Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.

Elman, Noble's largest shareholder with more than a 22 percent stake, said he believed the commodities cycle was "bottoming".

"I wouldn't rule out oil going down to $20-$25 a barrel, but I think it's not going to go down to $10," he said, adding oil prices were unlikely to stay at depressed levels for long.   Continued...

Noble Group founder and Chairman Richard Elman poses at his office in Hong Kong, China January 22, 2016.     REUTERS/Bobby Yip