Shares in troubled oil service company Petrofac (LSE: PFC) are crumbling this morning after the company announced that it had suspended its chief operating officer in response to the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.
According to the companys press release on the topic, COO Marwan Chedid has been suspended until further notice. He has also resigned from Petrofacs board.
Mr Chedids suspension and resignation signals that management knows the company has acted in ways it shouldnt have done, which explains why investors are rushing to dump their holdings in business this morning. The SFO has also accused the company of failing to co-operate properly with its investigation.
As part of the SFO investigation, Chedid, and Petrofacs chief executive officer Ayman Asfari had been arrested under caution and later released without charge. Asfari will continue in his position at the firmand will have no role or responsibilities for engaging with or liaising with agents and consultants with regards to the probe.
Its clear that the remainder of Petrofacs management is now in damage control mode. The company is planning to establish a committee on its board to deal with the SFO, and the overall response to the agency will be handled by a senior external specialist.
Still, despite these actions, its difficult to tell what the COO suspension and SFO investigation means for investors because the whole process is still in its early stages. That being said, after todays revelation it is clear that the SFO may have substantial evidence to back up its claims against the company, so investors should prepare for the worst.
Bribing the world
The SFO investigation concerns Petrofacs dealings with Unaoil. Labelled the company that bribed the world the Monaco-based oil firmis claimed to have bribed governments in oil-rich countries across the globe to help win contracts for customers such as Petrofac.
Petrofac isnt the only company to have used Unaoil services. Rolls-Royce, Halliburton, and Wood Group have all dealt with it as well.
It may take many years for the results of any investigation to be published, the task made all the more difficult considering the size of the alleged corruption at Unaoil. This is likely to mean a cloud of uncertainty will hang over Petrofac for some time and while there has been no significant impact to the companys underlying business as of yet, management turmoil combined with a blighted reputation will almost certainly have an impact on operations in the near future.
The bottom line
So overall, while the shares currently look cheap it may be best to avoid the company. Shares in the firm are trading at a forward earnings multiple of only 4.9 but considering we do not, as of yet, really know how severe the corruption scandal is and the size of any penalties that will be levied on business, its not possible to tell if this multiple reflects all of the bad news. With this being the case, the best course of action may be just to stay away from Petrofac until the dust has settled.
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