Over the past few months, the topic of financial filings with China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) has made frequent appearances within the U.S.-listed Chinese RTO (“reverse takeover”) sector. I and other critics have advocated that AIC filings are important data points in determining whether certain Chinese RTOs are falsifying their SEC financial statements. In cases where AIC-reported revenue, profit and assets are substantially lower than SEC-reported financial figures, we’ve claimed that this provides material evidence that the companies in question are fabricating their SEC financials.
Our arguments have made sense to many investors, but some remain unconvinced. Misleading responses by certain of the alleged frauds that AIC filings don’t matter have muddled the debate. These companies, such as CMFO, LIWA or OTCPK:CSKI, have claimed that AIC filings are unimportant and are not taken seriously in China, and that investors should not use these filings as data points when analyzing U.S.-listed RTOs. I strongly disagree.
The point of this article is that AIC filings do matter.
To illustrate this point in a way that hasn’t been yet done, I’m going to provide full 80-page AIC filings on two Chinese companies, China-Biotics Inc. (OTC:CHBT) and Spreadtrum Communications Inc (NASDAQ:SPRD). Both of these companies listed on the U.S. public markets several years ago, trade at similar market capitalizations, and both file with the Shanghai branch of the Administration for Industry and Commerce (“AIC”). Unlike some AIC branches that provide only selected AIC documents, the Shanghai branch provides full AIC reports to inquiring investors.
The China-Biotics filing is 84 pages, while the Spreadtrum filings are comprised of one 76-page filing and one 34-page filing. I also provide full English translations for each filing. These filings and the English translations help address much of the misinformation circulated about AIC filings, and provide clear examples of what information is included in AIC reports, and why I’m confident that these numbers matter. The filings provide extensive information about each company’s ownership, registered capital, and, most importantly, audited financial statements filed with the local Chinese government.
As I’ll discuss, Spreadtrum’s AIC report and financial statements provide evidence that SPRD is a legitimate Chinese company that generates substantial revenue and owns a significant amount of assets. Their filings give investors comfort that the company is accurately representing itself in its SEC financial statements.
OTC:CHBT’s AIC report and financial statements, on the other hand, indicate a company that is far smaller than its SEC filings indicate. Whereas SPRD’s AIC filings show a company generating more than $100m of revenue, OTC:CHBT’s filings show a company generating less than one-tenth of its SEC-reported revenue.
Both companies file with the same local AIC office. The reports are in the same format, and include similar sets of documents. Yet one shows a legitimate company, and the other shows a legal entity that has minimal business operations. Any long investor in OTC:CHBT, or critic of the legitimacy of AIC filings, has to ask himself the following question: Why would OTC:CHBT provide false information in its AIC filings when SPRD doesn’t?
The answer is that OTC:CHBT management is providing accurate information to the AIC. It seems to me that the fake information is in the SEC filings that they provide to public investors and the U.S. government, a government that does not have legal recourse to a Shanghai-based company.
Currently, the public markets are valuing OTC:CHBT and SPRD similarly. OTC:CHBT has a market capitalization of $250m. SPRD has a market capitalization of $440m. Yet it is my opinion that one of these Shanghai-based companies is real while the other looks like a fraud.
For those new to the debate, I’ll provide a brief discussion of AIC filings. The State Administration for Industry and Commerce is the Chinese government agency responsible for drafting and implementing legislation concerning the administration of industry and commerce in China. SAIC regulations are implemented by local AIC branches.
All Chinese companies file a variety of information with their local AIC office, including information on property leases; land use rights / building ownership certificates; capital verification reports (these show money / assets contributed by whom, and when); business licenses; the approved "business scope"; the legal representatives; applications to form the companies, with some personal information on the applying shareholders; applications to raise / reduce capital or change the business scope or term; tax and other government incentive documents; company bylaws; and, last but not least, annual financial statements.
Not all AIC branch offices operate the same way. Some provide photocopies of original documents to inquiring agents. Others email electronic data sheets. And others either provide information only verbally or require agents to visit the office and transcribe the relevant information by hand.
Furthermore, not all AIC branch offices provide the same volume of information to outsiders. Some AIC branch offices provide no information at all to the public. Some provide just financial statements. And some provide extensive reports, including financial statements, capital registrations, leases, etc.
The Shanghai AIC is one of those branches that provide full AIC reports, and in a convenient PDF document that is comprised of photocopies of all the relevant source documents.
That is why I have chosen to compare OTC:CHBT and SPRD. Both of these companies report to the Shanghai AIC. Unlike CMFO or ONP, which report to small rural AIC offices that are more secretive in terms of what they release to the public, the Shanghai AIC provides exceptional disclosure to inquiring investors.
- Click here for OTC:CHBT’s AIC report in its Chinese original.
- Click here for OTC:CHBT’s AIC report translated into English.
The AIC report is 84 pages, and I’ve numbered the pages clearly in the bottom right-hand corner of each page. Here is a breakdown of the documents contained in the report:
- Page 1-9: Company bylaws
- Page 10-11: Registration of the company name and application to register the company (July 1999)
- Page 12-19: Lease of Pudong plant (August 1999)
- Page 20-41: Various registration documents from 1999 to 2005
- Page 42-50: Various registration documents related to transfer of ownership from management to Sinosmart Group, the BVI entity involved in the reverse merger, in 2005
- Page 51-67: Annual Inspection Report for Foreign-Funded Enterprises for 2007
- Page 68-84: Annual Inspection Report for Foreign-Funded Enterprises for 2008
There should be little doubt that this AIC filing is for Shanghai Shining Biotechnology Co., Ltd, the main operating subsidiary of China-Biotics, Inc. Here is OTC:CHBT’s organizational structure:
Growing Bioengineering (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. is the legal entity established in 2006 that owns the bulk additives operations. Our AIC filings comparison is for the years 2007 and 2008, when Growing Biongineering had no material operations. Shanghai Shining was the sole operating entity. The 2009 filings for Shanghai Shining are not yet available.
Spreadtrum is a semiconductor manufacturer that IPO’d in 2007. It had a rough 2008 and 2009, when the global downturn reduced semiconductor demand, but business appears to be rebounding. Its two largest institutional investors, each owning more than 10% of shares, are $14bn private equity firm Silver Lake Partners and $11bn venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates.
SPRD, like most companies that generate $100m+ of revenue, has more than 1 operating subsidiary. Click here for its organizational structure. Based on discussions with management, most of the revenue, profit and assets were generated at two subsidiaries in 2007 and 2008: Spreadtrum Communications (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. and Spreadtrum Communications Technology (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. I’ll refer to the former as “Spreadtrum Communications” and the latter as “Spreadtrum Technology”.
I’ve acquired and translated the AIC filings for both of these subsidiaries.
- Click here for the AIC report for Spreadtrum Communications in its Chinese original
- Click here for the AIC report for Spreadtrum Communications translated into English
- Click here for the AIC report for Spreadtrum Technology in its Chinese original
- Click here for the AIC report for Spreadtrum Technology translated into English
Chinese GAAP does not consolidate financial statements. To approximate the consolidated financial figures for SPRD, we need to add the figures of Spreadtrum Communications and Spreadtrum Technology. Naturally, there are intercompany payments between the two subsidiaries that distort revenue and profitability. As well, the assets and liabilities are distorted by dividends payable to other SPRD subsidiaries, as well as the SPRD parent. But for our purposes, it’s clear that these AIC filings show a real company with assets and revenue greater than $100m.
Let’s compare the financial figures between each company’s AIC filings and SEC filings:
In the case of OTC:CHBT, the AIC filings show revenue of less than $1m in 2007 and 2008. This compares to SEC-reported revenue of $31m in 2007 and $42m in 2008. OTC:CHBT’s AIC-reported total assets were $7m and $9m, compared to $45m and $94m in its SEC filings.
OTC:CHBT’s AIC financial statements are on pages 51 to 84 of the AIC filing (English translation available here). A summary for 2007 and 2008 are on pages 53 and 70 of the filing (English translation available here).
In the case of SPRD, Spreadtrum Communications reported revenue of $62m and $64m in its 2007 and 2008 AIC filings, while Spreadtrum Technology reported revenue of $112m and $91m its 2007 and 2008 filings. Together, the combined entities reported $174m and $155m of revenue in 2007 and 2008 in their AIC documents. The SEC-reported revenue for SPRD was $146m and $110m in 2007 and 2008. The higher combined AIC numbers indicate that there were some intercompany sales in the AIC filings. Total assets for the combined two entities were $116m and $126m in 2007 and 2008, compared to SEC-reported total assets of $237m and $153m. The discrepancy in assets is likely due to large cash balances and other holdings at the non-Chinese parent Spreadtrum Communications, Inc., or other subsidiaries.
Again, we shouldn’t expect these subsidiary financial statements to match the SEC filings; rather, we’re mainly looking to see if the SPRD AIC filings indicate that there is a legitimate business operating under the SPRD ticker. They do.
Do We Have the Right Shanghai Shining Biotechnology Co. Ltd?
It appears to me that there is boundless evidence that the 84-page filing I’ve included refers to the same Shanghai Shining that is OTC:CHBT’s main operating subsidiary.
The shareholders of the company in the AIC filings are Song Jin’an, Yan Li, Huang Weida, and Yan Yihong. Jin’an is the current CEO, Li is his wife, Yihong is her sister, and all four are current or former officers, directors or shareholders of OTC:CHBT according to its SEC filings.
The main company address listed in the AIC filing is the same as the one listed in the SEC filing.
The CEO’s signature in the AIC filing is the same as the CEO’s signature throughout SEC filings. For instance, compare Song Jinan’s signature on this page from OTC:CHBT’s 2006 10K with his signature on page 19 of the AIC filing.
The percentage ownerships of the shareholders prior to the reverse merger match the percentage ownerships that China-Biotics has disclosed to the SEC. For instance, compare the response to question 14 in this March 16, 2007 correspondence with page 37 of the AIC filing (click here for English translation).
Pages 43 to 50 of the AIC filing (click here for English translation) provide details on management’s transfer of ownership to Sinosmart Group, the British Virgin Islands legal entity that acted as an intermediary in the company’s 2006 reverse merger. That transaction is documented extensively in the company’s SEC filings – search Sinosmart in any 10K.
There should be little dispute that we have the correct entity.
Evidence for why AIC filings do matter
I don’t think any aspect of our AIC filings gives the impression that companies can outright lie in the financial statements they file with the AIC. Each company provides lengthy and accurate information on their registered capital, leases, shareholders, company bylaws, etc. It’s a tremendous leap of faith to believe that the AIC requires accurate reporting in these aspects, but is indifferent as to whether a $40m revenue company reports sales of only $1m in its financial statements.
Here are additional reasons why we should take OTC:CHBT’s AIC filings seriously.
1. OTC:CHBT management and insider shareholders live in China. The AIC filings are filed with the Chinese government, whereas the SEC filings are filed with the U.S. government. Management is concerned about violating Chinese law and providing false information to the Chinese government. But, as it appears to me, they are indifferent to defrauding the US government and breaking US law. A Chinese resident does not have to obey U.S. law any more than a U.S. resident is required to obey Chinese law. That’s why they report the accurate numbers to the Chinese government, and what I believe are fake numbers to the U.S. government. There are practically no repercussions to Chinese management teams that defraud foreign investors. Numerous U.S.-listed RTO companies, like CXTI, CYXI and CHFI, have seen their management teams vanish with the companies' assets, and suffer no legal repercussions. Defrauding U.S. investors is not a violation of Chinese law, whereas defrauding the Chinese government is.
3. On page 70 (English translation is here), near the front of the 2008 Annual Inspection Report, we have a picture of Yan Yihong (the former CFO, and sister-in-law of the CEO), along with her detailed personal information and the following testament:
I hereby confirm and promise that all the contents contained in the annual inspection report do not contain anyfraudulent information and all the financial statements and other materials submitted are true and effective, and that I’m willing to bear any legal and related responsibilities caused due to the inaccuracy of such documents.
This is followed by the signature and personal seal of CEO Song Jin’an, as well as a seal of the company. I can’t fathom how the Chinese government would require such a testament in the Annual Inspection Report, but then allow a company to file false financial statements.
As I see it, it’s far more believable that OTC:CHBT is defrauding the US government and US investors, both of which have no legal recourse to the company’s management. The Chinese government certainly has legal recourse to Yan Yihong and Song Jin’an. The existence of this sort of testament at the front of the AIC Annual Inspection reports is a strong sign that AIC financial statements do matter.
4. Why does SPRD file financial statements that approximate its SEC filings (intercompany distortions notwithstanding), while OTC:CHBT files financial statements that are a tiny fraction of its reported SEC filings? As I’ll discuss in future articles, there are ample other signs that SPRD is a real business, while OTC:CHBT, as I have come to believe, is not. But even excluding any such future arguments, why would one foreign-owned Shanghai company lie on its AIC financial statements when another would tell the truth? Why would SPRD report large, accurate numbers if these filings didn’t matter? What sort of reasonable explanation can anyone come up with? Either both should be understating their numbers, or both should be reporting accurate numbers.
I firmly believe that both are reporting accurate numbers in their AIC filings.
I also believe that the fake numbers are the ones in OTC:CHBT's SEC filings.
Naturally, I have found that AIC filings are not the only signs that OTC:CHBT is falsifying its SEC financial statements. Citron Research raises excellent non-AIC-related issues with the company here. To me, the notion that probiotics nutritional supplements allowed OTC:CHBT to achieve revenue growth of 30%-50% annually over the past 4 years while achieving Microsoft-like EBITDA margins of 40%-45% is nothing short of absurd. The company raised $75m of cash in 2009 when it already supposedly had that much sitting in the bank, with no compelling reason for the new capital raise and dilution. Its reverse merger was organized by the same investors who’ve provided capital to renowned fraud Orient Paper, and its auditor is also the same as ONP’s (not to mention China Expert Technology’s). But we’ll get to these points in the future.
For now, I aim to make the case that AIC filings matter. The documents provided in this article provide an indication of what information AIC filings provide, and why investors should pay attention to them. SPRD’s AIC filings show a legitimate business that manufactures and sells semiconductors. On the other hand, OTC:CHBT’s AIC filings, as I see it, show a virtually non-operational legal entity which its management has used to defraud public investors, as well as the SEC, and to raise $75m of cash from US investors.