THG founder Matt Moulding has renewed his criticism of London’s public market.
The outspoken entrepreneur has been increasingly critical in recent months over the behaviour of hedge funds, media and bank analysts, who he has accused of creating negative coverage against UK-listed companies, including THG.
Last month he took to LinkedIn to claim: “The purpose of ‘the game’ is simple: bet that a share price will fall, and make sure you win the bet by doing everything possible to discredit the company.”
On Thursday he took to LinkedIn again to say he’d contributed to a review by Lord Hill into proposed reforms to the UK listing regime but said the changes will do little for the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
In particular, he questioned the LSE’s governance processes, citing the recent example of the Sheffield tech firm WANdisco, which is being investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Moulding wrote: “It’s laughable. Where were all the hedge funds, analysts and pundits ahead of Tesco’s £250m accounting scandal a few years ago? Or when BT recently had a similar issue in its Italian subsidiary? How did these LSE governance structures prevent the 2008 banking scandals, PPI or Libor rigging? And WANdisco a few weeks ago – really?
“There are barely 200 companies on the LSE with at least £1bn market cap, and none of the ‘highly skilled’ City professionals noticed the alleged massive fraud in WANdisco, as one of London’s 200 most valuable.
“It’s not like it’s a complex business – after a decade on the LSE it had c£10m in revenues, and then suddenly announced revenues didn’t exist after all.
“And so, the idea that the standards on the LSE are above other markets is ridiculous.”
THG has seen its share price fluctuate wildly in recent days following speculation of a possible takeover by Apollo Global Management.
It’s currently back up to 110p, having dipped to 90p at 4pm on Thursday. In October 2022 it dropped to 32p.
Earlier this year Moulding used his 51st birthday to reveal he was saying goodbye to the ‘stiff upper lip’ and would be more outspoken on LinkedIn.
In his latest blog Moulding welcomed proposed changes by the financial watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) but questioned whether they went far enough.
“The FCA announced it’s reforming itself and pledged to do better in tackling bad actors in the City,” he wrote.
“There were well over 2,000 allegations of foul play lodged with the FCA last year, with the FCA’s own survey finding the vast majority ‘extremely dissatisfied’ with a lack of action or engagement from the FCA.
“Instead, whistleblowers now often turn to the US regulator as a means of bringing an action in London.
“Many doubt real change can happen while the FCA continues to be closely supported by an advisory panel made up of the very people it is policing in the City. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
“And so maybe the key lesson we should take from the US isn’t more rule changes, but giving our regulator the resources to tackle the well-known bad actors using the LSE as their private piggy bank.
“Doubling both staff pay and the team at the FCA would be the best investment we could make in London.
“A regulator that protects founders, boards and investors alike, instead of shielding investment bankers, hedge funds and pundits, is what it takes to make the LSE attractive once again.
“Hey, but what do I know – other than being a customer of the LSE and the target market for city reforms.”
Moulding has been subjected to intense scrutiny ever since the Manchester-headquartered eCommerce giant floated on the stock market in 2020 at a share price of 500p and embarked on a strategy of aggressive acquisition.
He received criticism from investors and the media alike over the fact that he operated as both CEO and executive chair. He was also criticised for holding a ‘golden share’ which potentially allowed him to block a hostile takeover.
Things reached a nadir in 2021 when THG held a capital markets day, which turned into a PR and financial disaster and the company’s share price bombed. Not even the fact that Moulding gave up his ‘special share’ rights and beefed up the corporate governance could stem the flood of negative stories.