China’s Kaixin Auto Is a High-Voltage EV Danger

While investors don’t as a rule connect China and its used car market, there’s no doubt a big opportunity there. Isn’t there always when to comes to the world’s number two economy? And in the case of Kaixin Auto (NASDAQ:KXIN), the brass ring (or hubcap, if you like) seemingly presented itself through KXIN stock.

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No more. At least for the mystery-shrouded, sorta-shady-who-knows time being.

Trying to retrace the recent KXIN stock quagmire requires a master’s degree in sleuthing. (Mine is in communications, which in this case, Dr. Watson, is borderline useless.) That’s because no one really knows much about Haitaoche, a private Chinese firm that assumed a majority stake in Kaixin this past November.

From there, the questions multiply. Why did Haitaoche do this? Should this move inspire confidence or concern? Do the folks at Kaixin Auto know what they’re doing? And how exactly did a clunker of a social media company called Renren get involved?

KXIN Stock and the Big Picture

For those holding KXIN stock, times couldn’t be worse. Even bonafide, multi-billion dollar Chinese auto players are weathering pressure from Capitol Hill.

On Dec. 18, away from the headlines of election fraud and transition turmoil, President Trump signed an obscure piece of legislation aimed at China’s public companies. The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act punishes firms that do not comply with auditing oversight rules. It requires publicly traded companies to delist from American stock exchanges if they’re not financially forthcoming.

Even multi-billion EV makers such as XPeng Inc. (NYSE:XPEV) and Nio (NYSE:NIO) are feeling the heat, though they’re highly likely to pass the sniff test. Can the same be said of Kaixin? Let’s put it this way: Don’t even bet your rusted ’84 Aries K-car muffler on it.

A Clueless Company’s Mystery

My InvestorPlace home boys Josh Enomoto, Mark R. Hake and Matt McCall have all done a bang-up job trying to untangle the KXIN stock mess. Check out their pieces to get the full picture but let’s start with a no-brainer. The one way not to impress federal officials is to hire an auditor that’s run afoul of the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).

On Dec. 11, Kaixin announced that it had appointed Marcum Bernstein & Pinchuk LLP as its new auditor. The question is, why on Earth? Less than two weeks earlier, Hindenburg Research issued a scathing report on Chinese EV maker Kandi Technologies Group (NASDAQ:KNDI), indicating that the closely-tied Marcum LLP auditing firm “was just handed a three-year ban from auditing Chinese companies” by the PCAOB. Hindenburg’s word on EV shenanigans should never be taken lightly. It exposed the brazen investor deception at Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ:NKLA) that led to the ouster of founder Trevor Milton.

And from there, KXIN stock watchers, it just gets murkier. It’s not clear how Haitaoche, founded in 2015, managed to recently land a 51% stake in Kaixin with no money down. That’s a sweet used car deal if ever there was. It’s only known that the way was paved by Renren (NYSE:RENN), which Hake describes as “a sort of failed social media company in China.”

Danger: Electric Shockers

I’m not sure I can follow what comes next. But it appears that Kaixin brought in 95.7% of Renren’s revenue in 2019, while Haitaoche is an e-commerce platform for luxury cars including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. But what is it, really? With something as simple as how many employees work there or its URL — hey, this is supposedly an e-commerce site! — not even Bloomberg can say.

Given how all of this makes “clear as mud” look like “clear as crystal,” your money is better spent on a casino road trip than KXIN stock. Working out corporate trouble is one thing. But practically daring a government watchdog to make you a test case of an aggressive new law? And consorting with the corporate equivalent of a shadow puppet in a lightless cave? That sounds about as smart as licking an oozing lithium-ion battery in a lightning storm.

You should stay away. You must stay away. Come 2021, I think there’s a better chance of reading a “just delisted” headline in reference to KXIN stock than anything else. But why not get a head start? Revise your tally of portfolio possibilities and delist it now.

On the date of publication, Lou Carlozo held a long position in NIO. 

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