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Lots of trouble brewing at Technics Oil & Gas

Is Technics' new majority owner Eversendai a white knight or injured horseman?

Never halt trading on a stock on the final day of any year and expect the new year to be greeted by a jolly crowd of investors unless of course, it's for good reason or you are going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

NEVER halt trading on a stock on the final day of any year and expect the new year to be greeted by a jolly crowd of investors unless of course, it's for good reason or you are going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

And never (ever) extend that three-day halt for an over a month-long suspension (what a curious thing although granted, the Singapore Exchange rule book allows for it) pending announcement of a major disposal unless one is hand-on-chest certain it's going to pan out.

Technics Oil & Gas did exactly that and stomached an over 80 per cent loss in stock value in mid-February this year when it resumed trading with no deal in the bag.

At a low of seven Singapore cents, to which it had dived on Friday after falling 18 per cent and drawn the second trading activity query from the Singapore Exchange in three months, one would need binoculars to see its high of 74.5 cents reached last November.

Vaunted adulation

Just what is troubling this company - which makes process modules and gas compression units for oil and gas players and in 2008 moved from Sesdaq to the main board - that has led it to shed the vaunted adulation as a hidden gem many years ago to an unfolding calamity in recent months? A great deal - of bad.

Last week, the company founded by Robin Ting Yew Sue - who in February this year resigned as executive chairman, citing medical reasons - announced that its landlord, Soilbuild Business Reit, has taken legal action to claim rent and other charges for the premises of 72 Loyang Way.

The leasehold property, which serves as an integrated offshore supply base, used to belong to Technics' wholly-owned unit until it was sold to Soilbuild Reit mid-last year for S$97 million under a sale and 15-year leaseback pact to help ease Technics' negative working capital and repay bank borrowings.

But alas, Technics is now facing woes on the lease payment.

More news came on the same day, this time in regard to Mr Ting's son, Deren Ting Tiong Ching, who had stepped down as executive director in April; he and a connected entity filed a lawsuit claiming S$4.9 million in loan repayments from Technics. Mr Deren Ting, who had served Technics for 17 years (half of that as executive director), evidently no longer has any sentimental attachment to the company.

There was another back-to-back salt-in-wound development. Technics announced that a S$70.5 million contract to build a liftboat, the same contract that it had thumped its chest over back in September 2015 as a sure thing, has lapsed due to non-fulfilment of a clause by parties on the contract's effective date.

Barely a week before this string of bad news, filings with SGX revealed that some 13.6 million shares belonging to Mr Robin Ting were force sold by financial institutions for S$2.1 million between Feb 29 and March 22 over eight transactions, cutting his stake in the company to 4.74 per cent from 10.68 per cent.

There's been a whole lot of selling by his son too before this; the latter sold 14 million shares or almost all of his 6.18 per cent holdings for S$2.8 million. His stake is now just 0.06 per cent.

Next, Malaysian-listed turnkey contractor for high-rise buildings and power plants controlled by well-known businessman AK Nathan, Eversendai Corp, emerged as a major owner with a 29.87 per cent slice of Technics, adding more intrigue.

Eversendai's stake in Technics was built up over several transactions since late 2012 when the stock was then trading at just over S$1, up to more recently in late February and early March when it picked up a sizeable 10.3 per cent chunk at between 12.2 and 13.7 cents.

Boardroom switches

Following that and what appears to be a string of curious and haphazard boardroom switches at Technics over the course of the year, Mr Nathan was appointed executive chairman and group managing director of Technics on April 1.

What could have possessed Eversendai to pick up more stock of a troubled firm whose woes are clearly more than just its slipping financials? (Technics posted nearly S$6 million of losses for the first half ended March 2016 while revenue, annualised, has more than halved in four years).

Is it a white knight or injured horseman?

Eversendai now appears to be left with merely two hard choices - go for broke, stave off claims against the company while it gets Technics all stitched up or walk away from its investment which has cost some S$40 million.

For Technics' other shareholders, it means a great deal of (more) waiting or a lot more gloomy news could be in the offing.