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Commentary: Do it right, Mr Left

By Wang Aihua (Xinhua)

13:07, September 07, 2012

Even surnamed Left, a short-seller should still do business in the right way.

Andrew Left, founder of US short-seller Citron Research, has failed to provide ample justification for his publication of erroneous data in investment reports concerning United States-listed Chinese hi-tech companies, such as Qihoo 360.

Left has been involved in contention with a group of Chinese executives who issued a statement on Tuesday accusing Citron and other US short-sellers of citing false data and mis-characterizing Chinese hi-tech companies' products when writing reports on them.

Whether or not the attack was out of personal rivalries involving the leader of the group Kai-fu Lee, as was rebutted by Left, the truth remains that Citron got basic facts wrong about more than one company, a rather demeaning mistake for a short-seller, a profession in which reputation is of crucial importance.

For example, in Citron's report on Sogou, a search engine and Chinese character input method affiliated with web portal operator Sohu, Left's work stated that Sogou has a 10-percent market share in China. However, as the Chinese executives pointed out, it in fact has a 4-percent share.

But, why had Left included such erroneous material? What were his sources for the data?

Kai-fu Lee, former head of Google China and CEO of technology startup incubator Innovation Works, believes that Citron could not find more problematic Chinese companies listed in the United States around a year and a half ago and instead turned to going after those with few problems or no problems at all.

Asymmetric information access due to long distances, and young Chinese companies' lack of publicity made it hard for US investors to verify the reports, which also connotes insufficient supervision from regulators like the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

It is also in no way easier for Chinese companies to defend themselves with voices loud enough to attract public attention. This time, if not for the existing fame of the group of executives, Citron would have got away with it.

In fact, as Chinese companies expand and become more aware of rights protection, similar false reports will have limited room for survival.

Should the misbehavior shown by Citron and others persist, it is not just Chinese companies that will suffer from narrower financing channels; US investors will also lose in the fast-growing Chinese market.

For years, the United States remained a magnet for Chinese hi-tech companies to pool finance thanks to its mature stock exchanges and higher recognition of hi-tech stocks. This picture should not be tainted by a single-person company churning out irresponsible reports.

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