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Steinhoff Short Seller Tipped Off To Irregularities After Mattress Firm Purchase

Mattress Firm HQ

The accounting irregularities that have sunk the value of Steinhoff International Holdings NV, the South African parent company of Mattress Firm, first drew scrutiny because of its high-priced purchase of the Houston-based mattress retailer.

The mysterious short seller, who first noticed the financial irregularities at Steinhoff International Holdings NV, was revealed in an interview with Bloomberg Wednesday. Fraser Perring, founder of Viceroy Research, said he and colleagues Gabriel Bernarde and Aidan Lau first started to question shorting Steinhoff when the firm acquired Mattress Firm for $64 a share, more than double the closing price on the day the deal was announced.

Perring was already considering shorting Mattress Firm, he said, and was stunned to see Steinhoff's purchase price.  

“Either the market was undervaluing it by 100%, or Steinhoff was overpaying by 100%,” Perring told Bloomberg. “And if it’s too good to be true, something is up.”

The group of researchers released a 37-page report detailing Steinhoff's accounting irregularities a day after the retail conglomerate's CEO, Markus Jooste, resigned, sending the company's stock tumbling downward more than 80% over the next few days. News of Steinhoff's irregularities sent shock waves throughout the financial world as four of the largest banks in the U.S. announced more than $1B in losses tied to Steinhoff. 

Steinhoff's struggles led to liquidity issues for the group. As a result, Steinhoff engaged with lenders to secure sufficient liquidity to maintain the company's underlying operations. In meetings with Steinhoff's creditors, Mattress Firm revealed it would need an additional $200M investment to close 200 underperforming and duplicate locations. After the meeting with creditors, Mattress Firm announced it attained its own deal for $75M in asset-backed financing with an option to increase the deal to $275M. 

In a Thursday press release, Steinhoff said it expects to be able to pay interest on its debt in the near term by refinancing all borrowings in South Africa and recommending payment waivers on its European financing agreements. The new financing plan will enable Steinhoff to free up funds for the rest of the company in light of its subsidiaries Mattress Firm and Conforama securing their own financing.

Mattress Firm's and Steinhoff's financing issues come in the wake of a legal dispute between Mattress Firm, two of its former real estate executives and the firm's outside broker, in which Mattress Firm alleges kickbacks and a conspiracy to defraud the company. The lawsuit is not the first filed by Mattress Firm against one of its real estate execs.