June 29, 2018 / 3:43 PM / in 4 months

Steinhoff takes $12 billion writedown after accounting scandal

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African retailer Steinhoff (SNHJ.J) (SNHG.DE) said it has booked $12 billion in charges related to accounting irregularities discovered last year, as it reported a widened half-year loss.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A Mattress Firm store, a brand owned by Steinhoff, is shown in Encinitas, California, U.S., January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The writedown is the latest setback for the multinational retailer, which has been fighting to stay afloat since it revealed holes in its accounts last December that wiped $15 billion off its market value.

The company, which grew rapidly from a small local furniture outfit to a multi-national retailer, said 10.2 billion euros ($11.91 billion) of charges related mostly to overstated profits, asset values and transactions having to be reversed. The figure is 70 percent more than the 6 billion euros initially estimated.

The writedowns widened the company’s operating loss to 152 million euros in the six months through March this year compared with a 44 million euros a year earlier.

The owner of Mattress Firm in the United States and Poundland in Britain delayed publishing its results in December when it appointed auditing firm PwC to investigate past accounting practices.

The probe, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, has uncovered that accounting irregularities date back to at least 2015.

“While the company is determined to get to the bottom of the alleged accounting irregularities as quickly as possible, it is essential that PwC is allowed sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation to determine precisely what has taken place,” chairwoman Heather Sonn said.

DEBT RESTRUCTURING

Cut off from credit lines, Steinhoff has been surviving on cash injections from asset sales as it finalises a deal with lenders to restructure its roughly 9 billion euros of debt.

Steinhoff said it had agreed the main terms of a restructuring deal, under which all its debt would be reinstated at par and be given a common maturity date of three years from the completion of the restructuring agreement.

Steinhoff said the plan would allow it to focus on running the business and the debt maturity extension would give it time to reduce its borrowings.

Sealing a debt deal will allow the company to address the multiple lawsuits against it, including a 59 billion rand ($4.30 billion) litigation claim by former chairman and top shareholder Christo Wiese.

Wiese, best known best known for transforming grocery retailer Shoprite (SHPJ.J) from just six shops in the 1970s to hundreds of stores across Africa, said he has not spoken to Steinhoff management about the lawsuit since launching it in April.

“Management can say nothing else, I fully understand that. They believe they can successfully defend it, that’s why there are courts of law,” he told Talk Radio 702.

Shares in Steinhoff closed up 6.6 percent higher to 1.29 rand in Johannesburg, valuing the company just over 5 billion rand($364.21 million), a dramatic reversal in fortunes for a company worth 240 billion rand six months ago.

Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Louise Heavens

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