Fair Value Accounting Controversy at Noble Group
Noble Group, founded in 1986, was a large commodities trader based in Hong Kong and listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. In 2012, Noble shifted its business strategy towards an asset-light model. Under this model, Noble did not own mines or farms to produce commodities but built commodity sourcing capacity by working with and investing in producers in exchange for purchase and marketing contracts. Noble also worked with customers to secure supply contracts. Noble had a portfolio of 12,000 commodity contracts by end of 2014. The contracts were measured at fair value. Iceberg Research, an anonymous blog, released a series of reports starting in February 2015 alleging that Noble was too aggressive in its fair value accounting for contracts and investments in producers. Iceberg did not accuse Noble of fraud, but suggested that Noble's profits and balance sheet were highly inflated and Noble was headed for disaster. Noble defended its accounting policies and hired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to provide an independent review of fair value measurement. PwC released a positive review of Noble's accounting. However, questions remained whether Noble's contracts and investments were overvalued. The case explores Noble's business and investigates whether questions about its accounting practices were in the past following the attestation by PwC.