I joked here earlier this month that perhaps "professional courtesy" might spare publicly traded law firm Slater & Gordon -- a major player in pursuing cases for plaintiffs in Australian securities class actions -- from ending up on the receiving end of a shareholder class action. Alas, that is looking less and less likely and the sharks are circling.
To recap, Slater & Gordon's stock price has plummeted from as high as $7.85/share in April 2015 to $3.17/share in mid-November 2015 to just $0.83/share as of today. The stock price seemed to stabilize a bit on November 30, when Slater & Gordon reaffirmed its 2016 financial guidance for revenue of $1.15 billion and earnings of $205 million. Yesterday, however, Slater & Gordon's CEO announced that a review of the company's guidance and forecasting processes required the company to withdraw the November 30 guidance.
Following yesterday's withdrawal of the November 30 guidance, Slater & Gordon's stock price has fallen from $1.06/share to $0.83/share. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission "has been investigating Slater & Gordon since June, when its revealed its first surprise downgrade, but the scope of the review is being broadened, sources said."
In addition, the most recent guidance downgrade may have been the last straw for plaintiffs' class action lawyers who have been eyeing their publicly-traded peer as its stock price continues to crumble. Yesterday, Sydney-based law firm ACA Lawyers announced that it was "investigating Slater & Gordon Limited’s (SGH) market announcements in the period 9 April to 17 December 2015." ACA Lawyers stated that between the time that Slater and Gordon raised approximately $890 million through an entitlement offer that closed on March 30, 2015, and the withdrawal of guidance this week, its "share price fell more than 86.4 percent and wiped almost $2 billion off shareholder value."
Andrew Watson, the national head of Australian law firm Maurice Blackburn's class actions practice, said that any further downgrades could "put the company in a precarious position" and questioned the rationale behind Slater & Gordon's decision to issue the November 30 guidance. He added that in his view, Slater & Gordon shareholders had the right to be
“profoundly disappointed in today’s announcement and subsequent price drop. To be walking away from the earnings guidance it reaffirmed so emphatically only a few weeks ago makes it increasingly hard to believe that the company has proper systems in place or that the guidance should have been given in the first place.”