Noble Group CEO quits unexpectedly, raising doubts over strategy

Mon May 30, 2016 6:45am EDT
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By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Noble Group's (NOBG.SI: Quote) CEO Yusuf Alireza quit on Monday, a surprise move that comes just weeks after he secured crucial financing for Asia's biggest commodity trader and raises questions about its future strategy.

The embattled company named its president William Randall, and Jeff Frase, global head of oil liquids, as co-CEOs and said it would begin a sale process for Noble Americas Energy Solutions, which it had indicated to be valued at over $1.25 billion in August 2015. The changes are with immediate effect.

The sale move is aimed at boosting the balance sheet of Singapore-listed Noble, which has been battered since early last year by a bruising accounting dispute and weak commodity markets.

"The first task is to stabilize the situation and convey stability and continuity," said Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, an analyst at Religare Capital Markets. "That would be the immediate task of somebody in this business which has volatility," he said.

Noble was accused in February 2015 by Iceberg Research of overstating its assets by billions of dollars, claims which Noble rejected. Since then, Noble's market value has plunged by about 75 percent, or over S$6 billion ($4.35 billion), to S$1.8 billion and its debt costs have risen as it lost its investment grade rating and battled the worst commodity price rout in decades.

The shares shed 8 percent on Monday.

Alireza, a former Goldman Sachs (GS.N: Quote) Asia co-head who joined Noble four years ago, steered it into selling assets and cutting business lines as part of a radical transformation to become a company which did not own bulky assets.

With the transformation process now largely complete, Alireza considered that the time was right for him to move on, Noble said. Alireza did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (   Continued...

Noble Groups Chief Executive Officer Yusuf Alireza speaks during a news conference after meeting with investors in Singapore August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su