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Noble Group’s $3.5 billion debt rescue plan was thrown into doubt on Thursday when Singapore authorities said they would block the relisting of shares in what was once Asia’s top commodity trader.

Singapore regulators took the decision after reviewing the findings so far of a probe into Singapore-listed Noble by Singapore police, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

MAS, the city-state’s central bank, and Singapore Exchange regulators concluded that “there are significant uncertainties about the financial position of New Noble”, they said in a statement, referring to the restructured unit.

“It would be imprudent to allow the re-listing as investors will not be able to trade in New Noble’s shares on an informed basis. MAS and SGX Regco (Singapore Exchange Regulation) will therefore not allow the re-listing of New Noble to proceed,” the statement said.

Noble has seen its market value all but wiped out from $6 billion over the past four years after its accounting was questioned by Iceberg Research in February 2015.

To save itself, Noble has sold billions of dollars of assets, taken hefty writedowns and cut hundreds of jobs, while defending its accounting.

The company, whose shares were suspended from trading last month due to the restructuring, wants to transform itself into an Asia-focused coal-trading business. Noble was looking to list the overhauled business as part of the restructuring, which is subject to regulatory approval.

Noble said it intended to “take steps to preserve value for stakeholders, including through implementation of the structuring by an alternative process”. It added that it had consulted with its group of creditors.

The company said it planned to shortly provide a comprehensive response to ACRA, regarding the regulator’s investigation into the company’s technical accounting.

Amid the regulatory probe, Noble had pushed back last month’s deadline to complete its debt restructuring deal to Dec. 11 and said it was cooperating fully with authorities.

At the time of the last extension, Noble had said it had made good progress towards completing the restructuring but the timeline was delayed “due to the additional time required to fully address all concerns of the regulators”.

On Thursday, Singapore authorities said that after the investigation started, Noble had submitted financial statements which would have cut the restructured unit’s net asset value by as much as 45 percent after taking into account potential non-compliance with accounting standards.

Under the proposed debt-for-equity deal, Noble’s debt would be halved and it would get access to $800 million in trade finance and hedging facilities, a lifeline in a sector where profit margins are in the low single digits.

In return, Noble’s creditors, mostly made up of hedge funds, would own 70 percent of the restructured business, while existing shareholders’ equity would be reduced to 20 percent and Noble’s management was to get 10 percent.

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Italy nightclub stampede: Six people killed



Six people, including five young teenagers, were crushed to death in the early hours of Saturday following a stampede at a packed nightclub near Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast, officials said.

The deaths occurred when a walkway leading out of the Lanterna Azzurra nightclub in the town of Corinaldo collapsed, causing dozens of people to fall into a trench below.

Three girls, two boys and a mother who had accompanied her child to the event died in the crush. Police said the teenagers were aged between 14 and 16, while the dead woman was 39.

More than 100 other people were injured, 13 of them seriously, officials said.

The local fire brigade said someone might have sprayed a substance like pepper spray into the crowd, triggering a panicked rush to the emergency exits.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who also serves as interior minister, said early indications suggested there were many more people than permitted inside the club, where popular Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta had been due to perform.

“People cannot die like this,” Salvini said in a statement. “We will find those responsible for these six broken lives, those who out of malice, stupidity or greed have turned a party night into a tragedy,” he added.

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China’s November export, import growth shrinks, showing weak demand 



U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday sounded an optimistic note about trade negotiations with China as his top economic advisers downplayed friction from the arrest of Meng Wanzhou.

“China talks are going very well,” Trump said on Twitter, without providing any details. In a note, analysts at Haitong Securities in Shanghai said “Growth in shipments of Chinese goods on U.S. 200 billion tariff list has started to pull back, indicating that frontloading effects may be starting to recede.”

“Now with U.S. and China agreeing not to escalate trade tensions any longer, China will start purchasing U.S. agricultural goods, which may narrow China-U.S. trade surplus in the future,” they said. China’s November trade surplus with the United States was a record $35.55 billion. The October surplus was $31.78 billion. But China’s imports from the U.S. in November fell 25 percent from a year earlier, while the annual decline in October was only 1.8 percent.

For trade with all countries, China’s surplus was $44.74 billion for November, compared with forecasts of $34 billion and October’s surplus of $34.02 billion.

On Thursday, the U.S. reported that its global trade deficit in October jumped to a 10-year high, and that the deficit with China surged 7.1 percent to a record $43.1 billion.

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Germany CDU election: The ‘mini’ Merkel win



On Friday, delegates from the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Hamburg elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as ‘AKK’, as the new leader of the party, replacing Chancellor Angela Merkel. The leadership race showcased the divide inside the party between more conservative circles and those who wanted continuity.

AKK, as she is widely called, stands for continuity and she will safeguard the legacy of Angela Merkel, while opposing candidate Friedrich Merz, who garnered 48 percent of the votes, would have been a fresh wind calling for a more conservative profile of the party. Until the end, the outcome was too close to call.

The election of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer comes as a big relief to Merkel, who clearly seemed to be pleased by the outcome. She is a close ally of hers and her election might enable her to stay on as chancellor for the remaining time of her term, until 2021, without facing strong infighting from her own party.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s rise through the rank to the top of Germany’s biggest party puts her in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor. As she only entered the national political stage in February when she became the CDU’s secretary general, she might need the coming years until new elections will come about, to raise her profile. While she rejects being called a “mini-Merkel”, she has a very similar sober appearance and non-emotional approach when speaking in public.

Her election will most likely not trigger new elections next year, as the SPD, the Social Democratic Party that is in a coalition government with the CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), will be happy to work together with her.

Friedrich Merz, the “law and order” and more conservative candidate, would have been a bitter pill to swallow for the SPD. But one should not forget when talking about the risk of new elections that the SPD, given their current low ratings, will avoid those at all costs as the outcome might marginalize them even further.

So what’s the biggest takeaway from the change on leadership at the CDU? The big political earthquake was prevented with AKK as new party leader and the name of the game is “continuity” and not “a fresh start”. Whether this will be the recipe to attract voters back from the populist, far-right Alternative for Germany party (the AfD) is not clear, as AKK will not move the party to a more conservative corner.

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