Shareholders on alert over poor corporate earnings of 100 Hong Kong companies

Weak export demand and slower than usual growth in China take a toll on 2013 income, with almost 100 firms issuing profit warnings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 5:17pm

Shareholders have been put on alert over poor corporate earnings for last year, with a rash of warnings from Hong Kong-listed companies underscoring challenges as the mainland economy remains mired in its weakest growth in 14 years.

Almost 100 companies have warned of either losing money or recording significant declines in profitability for last year, filings to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing since November last year show. The reporting season starts next month and ends on March 31.

However, the number equated to about 13 per cent fewer profit warnings than seen in the same period last year, when 115 companies issued such alerts.

While some analysts said it was too early to conclude if fewer or more companies would be worse off last year than in 2012, there was widespread agreement that firms are constrained by weak overseas demand that is recovering only slowly and by the mainland's flat economic growth, at 7.7 per cent for the past two years.

"Based on our anecdotal evidence on the companies we track, there are quite mixed results in different areas," said Zac Gill, a CLSA analyst who focuses on small and mid-cap companies. "2012 was a particularly bad year."

Winemaker China Tonetine Wines and Shanghai-cuisine restaurant Xiao Nan Guo blamed the mainland's crackdown on government officials' lavish spending for hurting their revenues and warned that profits would drop significantly for last year.

Retailers including Shirble Department Store, shoe seller Daphane, fashion house S Culture and sportswear firm 361 Degrees also have done poorly, citing higher expenses and weaker demand.

Amid a nascent recovery in global trade, export-oriented firms such as freight forwarder Singamas Containers warned of a significant decline in net profit last year against a US$60.34 million profit in 2012. The company said it faced softer container demand and lower selling prices.

Gill said companies in sectors such as the internet, health care, gaming and entertainment were likely to outperform last year, and would continue to do well this year.

Meanwhile, a handful of Hong Kong-listed mainland-based firms have announced positive profit alerts recently.

However, such "profits" are often the result of changes in accounting policies or one-off gains from restructuring, with underlying performances still weak.

Angang Steel said last week that it expected to post a net profit of 770 million yuan (HK$988 million) for last year, after a loss of 4.03 billion yuan in 2012 and a loss of 2.15 billion yuan in 2011. The steelmaker cited improved product quality and cost cuts.

Under mainland listing rules, firms that report three consecutive years of net losses can be delisted if they do not come up with a credible restructuring plan for a return to profits.