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Samsonite CEO makes hasty exit after short-seller attack; shares surge

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Samsonite, now valued at around US$4.9 billion, said last month that net profit surged 19 per cent and revenue jumped 21 per cent in the first quarter.

Shanghai

SAMSONITE International SA said CEO Ramesh Tainwala had stepped down, leaving less than a week after a short-seller attacked accounting practices that involved entities owned by his family and accused him of resume padding.

The world's largest luggage maker said Mr Tainwala had resigned for personal reasons but its board took seriously the allegations about his academic credentials and his departure was "in the best interests of the company and its shareholders".

Samsonite also issued a nine-page response to other allegations made by newly launched short-seller Blue Orca, repeating its stance that the report was one-sided and misleading. It added that its auditor KPMG had not withdrawn its audit opinions, nor had it indicated that it would do so.

Analysts praised the swift action but it remains to be seen if Samsonite has done enough to resolve the issue. Its shares surged 12 per cent on Friday but are still down more than 10 per cent since the attack.

"While the company is viewed as having made the right move with the management reshuffle, it could lead to some uncertainty," said Linus Yip, chief strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

He added that Mr Tainwala's departure may suggest to investors that some allegations were true and the share rally could be short-lived.

Mr Tainwala did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. He said last week that the firm maintained a "very high standard" of accounting and that "every allegation ... is mischievous and false".

Blue Orca, which was launched last month by Texas-based short-seller Soren Aandahl, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chief financial officer Kyle Gendreau, 49, will take the helm with immediate effect. He has been Samsonite's CFO since early 2009. Before joining the company he worked in various financial roles at firms including venture capital-backed startup Zoots and catalogue retailer Specialty Catalog Corporation.

Headquartered in Massachusetts, Samsonite is one of the few major foreign stocks listed in Hong Kong, alongside Prada and cosmetics firm L'Occitane International.

It acquired the Tumi brand in 2016.

The firm, now valued at around US$4.9 billion, said last month that net profit surged 19 per cent and revenue jumped 21 per cent in the first quarter, led by robust sales of its Tumi brand products.

Prior to the Blue Orca report, the average recommendation from 14 analysts on the shares was a "buy", Thomson Reuters data showed. Its shares hit a record high of HK$38.60 (S$6.58) in April amid expectations of further improvement in the luxury retail sector. REUTERS

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