Look, I get it. Trading under five times next year's expected earnings, shares of NQ Mobile (NYSE:NQ) look ridiculously cheap right now. But I'm still not biting.
Sure, NQ stock roared 34% higher in a single day last week, after the Chinese Internet services company stated its special committee's independent investigation yielded no evidence of fraud. At first glance -- and contrary to my previous assertion its battle was far from over -- it appeared NQ Mobile had cleared its name in the face of extensive fraud allegations brought by noted short seller Muddy Waters.
Investors are waiting on two key items
So why, then, have shares of NQ Mobile steadily given up most of those gains over the past week? Look no further than the fact NQ still hasn't received an unqualified audit, or filed its twice-delayed annual report on form 20-F as required by the SEC. Until investors see both of these things happen, the stock is likely to remain under pressure.
And that's not to mention the fact NQ's own report admitted the investigation team "observed indications that some information might be missing," and this on "many devices" it collected from senior management and from professionals "related to the company's activities as referred to in the Muddy Waters allegations."
Carson Block of Muddy Waters unsurprisingly pounced on this point, stating, "Given that there was data tampering during an investigation that dragged on far longer than should have been allowed, it is clear that management was able to stay a step ahead of the investigation by changing and deleting data."
What's more, Block speculates the admission in NQ's report was "undoubtedly the result of a negotiation between the advisors and the company, and [...] almost certainly understates the severity of the problem."
And I agree: If NQ truly wants to be transparent, it needs to release the full report so we know the extent of its data tampering.
Why the divestments?
Keeping in mind NQ Mobile ended 2013 with a total cash position of $283 million, I also find myself unconvinced by the timing and need for NQ to sell small stakes in its subsidiaries.
Roughly two weeks ago, NQ Mobile announced it would sell up to 5.88% of its wholly owned gaming subsidiary FL Mobile for $25 million -- $15 million from China-based Bison Capital and $10 million from "other investors." That valued FL Mobile at approximately $425 million.
Then, earlier this week, NQ agreed to sell 3.4% of NationSky for $18 million to Beijing Guorun Qilian Venture Capital Center, which gives the subsidiary alone at $530 million valuation. NQ also states it will sell another 2.3% of NationSky for $12 million to "other investors within the next two months," and plans to use the funds for research and development, marketing, working capital activities and the expansion of NationSky's core operations."
The kicker? NQ goes on to tease the investors have the right to "demand the redemption of their shares" if NationSky doesn't complete a qualified IPO or find a third-party buyer for a valuation of at least $550 million within 24 months. A similar caveat went for its FL Mobile announcement, which comes with a redemption right if FL Mobile doesn't complete an IPO within 12 months.
And that's all well and good, especially considering the combined post-money valuations of FL Mobile and NationSky are said to be $955 million, or more than twice NQ Mobile's entire market cap of $465 million as of this writing.
But here's my question: Why in the world would these hedge funds want to purchase small stakes in NQ Mobile's subsidiaries at these valuations, when they could instead simply buy NQ's own massively undervalued common stock? Or perhaps NQ is just that convincing, and maybe the deals were struck more to highlight the underlying value of NQ Mobile's combined businesses to investors.
In the end, though, there are just too many red flags that continue to crop up, and something just doesn't smell right to me. That's not to say NQ Mobile couldn't fully exonerate itself going forward, in which case its loyal investor base would be handsomely rewarded. But if this unravels and NQ is eventually exposed as a fraud, the risk is a total loss. Call me crazy, but that's a risk I'm not willing to make.