October 1, 2019 / 4:56 PM / a month ago

Italy's Bio-on slashes 2019 sales forecast, blames U.S. hedge fund

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Bio-on SpA (ON.MI) reported a collapse in first-half revenue and slashed its full-year sales forecast on Tuesday, blaming what it said was unfounded criticism of its accounts by a U.S. hedge fund and almost halving its market value.

The results, including a drop in sales to just under 1 million euros ($1.1 million) from 6.1 million in the first half of last year, came after Quintessential Capital Management (QCM) questioned the bio-plastics firm’s accounts in July.

Bio-on cut its full-year sales forecast from external customers to 20 million euros, compared with previous guidance for overall revenue of 78 million.

“The main reason was the attack by Quintessential in July,” said its founder Marco Astorri.

The Bologna-based company, whose customers include consumer goods company Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) (UNA.AS), said talks to supply customers with its PHA plastics technology had slowed significantly because of the hedge fund’s attack on the quality of its technology.

Quintessential said the sharp fall in sales vindicated its criticism of the company.

In a note it said Bio-on had provided highly questionable data compared with its actual state of business in terms of both sales and numbers such as financial position and production.

“All this, in our opinion, confirms our strong fears over liquidity and solvency at the company,” it said.

First-half core losses doubled to 5 million euros but the company said it was confident of achieving a core profit of 8 million euros this year.

Bio-on’s shares dropped as much as 48%, after failing to open at the start of trading.

Astorri said a new five-year business plan would be announced shortly to replace the current plan, which was due to conclude next year.

LEGAL COMPLAINT

The company said Envent Capital Market, the nominated adviser required for companies listed on the AIM segment of the market, had resigned, but gave no details.

QCM’s criticisms in July led to a collapse in Bio-on’s share price and to the opening of an investigation by Italian prosecutors for possible market manipulation.

Bio-on, which says it has developed a process for the production of biodegradable plastic from agricultural waste, has repeatedly denied QCM’s accusations and has filed a legal complaint against the fund.

It said two independent experts, appointed after a meeting with prosecutors, had concluded the accounting criteria used for its 2018 results had been lawful.

Bio-on, which before QCM’s allegations was worth just over 1 billion euros, is now worth 363 million euros.

The company said it was considering moving from the AIM part of the market to the Star segment for fast-growing small and mid-sized companies.

Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi in Milan; Writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Matthew Lewis

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