Noble founder steps aside ahead of key vote

The founder of Noble will free up his executive director role ahead of the beleaguered commodity trading firm's vote on its $3.5 billion debt-for-equity swap.

Richard Elman, the founder of Noble Group, has junked plans to become an executive director of the new firm that it hopes to be reborn as, just days before shareholders vote on its do-or-die $3.5 billion debt restructuring.

In a statement on Monday, Noble, once Asia's biggest commodity trader but hounded by accounting issues and unsustainable debts for the best part of the last three years, said Elman’s decision not to assume the role was due to personal reasons, without providing further details.

Noble said the composition of New Noble's board will be announced prior to August 27 when existing shareholders -- including Elman, who owns an 18% stake -- are set to vote on a plan to convert most of the group's debt into equity, hugely diluting their holdings.

“Without Elman the new board of Noble should be able to address and balance the interests of its debt and equity [holders] adequately”, a Hong Kong-based fixed-income investor told FinanceAsia on condition of anonymity because his company is involved in the restructuring. “The new board should not be dogmatic and need a new approach to external feedback.” 
Noble has previously indicated that the proposed debt-for-equity swap has the support of 30% of shareholders, including Elman, and the backing of more than 42% of Noble's perpetual bond holders and over 86% of its senior creditors.
Elman, a former British scrap metal trader, founded Noble in Hong Kong in 1986 before listing it in Singapore in 1997. The 77 year-old stepped down as its chief executive in 2009 and became non-executive chairman.

Having run through five CEOs since then, Elman ceded his own role to restructuring expert Paul Brough, who joined the company in 2016.

The shareholder meeting, which will take place at the M Hotel near Marina Bay and also vote on the disposal of two vessels to Cyprus-based Aeolian Spirit Shipping for $46 million, aims to bring down the curtain on a three-year corporate drama that has gripped Asian markets.

Noble's share price has tumbled more than 95% since 2015, when research group Iceberg first published a series of reports accusing the company of questionable accounting practices and doubting its ability to generate cash.

In the intervening years, Noble has sold off a slew of major assets globally, slashed jobs and retrenched to its core business of coal and freight trading.

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