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Hedge Fund That Shorted China’s Luckin Early Is Betting on Worse to Come

Bei Hu, Suzy Waite and Nishant Kumar

(Bloomberg) -- One of the first hedge funds to wager against Luckin Coffee Inc. is betting the stock’s 93% plunge this year has further to go.

Inventio Capital Management (Hong Kong) Ltd., led by Soros Fund Management LLC alumnus Wang Dawei, started shorting Luckin after its initial public offering in May 2019, adding to the position in April after the company became embroiled in an accounting scandal, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The fund is still short after Luckin’s 36% tumble on Wednesday, the person said.

The coffee chain, which said this week that it may be delisted by Nasdaq Inc., has generated more than $1 billion of mark-to-market gains for short sellers this year, according to data compiled by S3 Partners LLC. Jim Chanos and Carson Block have both wagered against the stock, while hedge funds including CloudAlpha Capital Management Ltd. and FengHe Asia Fund made money on Luckin shorts in April.

Once seen as one of China’s brightest growth stories and the homegrown answer to Starbucks Corp., Luckin’s disclosure in early April that senior executives may have fabricated $310 million of sales has plunged the company into crisis.

Luckin’s fall from grace has made it a poster child for concerns about Chinese corporate governance, fueling a debate in Washington over the extent to which U.S. money and capital markets should be accessible by firms from a growing geopolitical rival. The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday that could lead to Chinese companies being barred from listing on U.S. stock exchanges.

Inventio initially bet against Luckin because it viewed the company’s business model as flawed. It also didn’t like the fact that the company reduced its information disclosure within months of its IPO, as well as what it saw as excessive market expectations that created the wrong sort of incentives for staff, the person said, declining to be identified discussing private information.

By mid-January, Luckin had become one of fund’s largest bearish stock bets. It contributed about a third of Inventio’s 15% gain from short positions in the first four months of this year. The overall fund is largely flat this year, the person said.

Read more about how some hedge funds lost money on Luckin

CloudAlpha Capital Management’s Luckin short accounted for about a quarter of the fund’s 4.2% net gain in April, according to a monthly update sent to investors. The trade drove nearly a third of the 1.5% April return at FengHe Asia Fund, the Singapore-based firm said in a note to investors.

Representatives from Inventio, CloudAlpha and FengHe declined to comment.

“We did not short Luckin due to suspected fraud,” FengHe said in its investor newsletter. “We were of the view that Luckin could not sustain its extreme loss-making fast expansion business model and foresaw that its financials will come down significantly.”

Tybourne, Lone Pine

Luckin’s strategy to take on Starbucks involved the Xiamen, China-based company opening more stores in two years than its Seattle-headquartered counterpart has done in two decades. The breakneck expansion has continued even after the revelation of potential fraud.

FengHe covered most of its short position in late March when the stock fell below its price target of $30 and closed out the remainder in early April, fearing a prolonged stock suspension or a forced delisting could make it difficult to take profit on the trade.

Asset managers that lost money from bullish bets on Luckin included Stephen Mandel’s Lone Pine Capital LLC. The Greenwich, Connecticut-based firm lost 2% of its capital from an 11% stake in Luckin after the coffee chain’s share price collapsed in April.

Tybourne Capital Management (HK) Ltd. also lost money on the 2.1 million Luckin shares it bought in the first quarter and has since sold, according to a regulatory filing, and another person with knowledge of the matter. The Hong Kong-based firm, which oversees more than $6 billion in a long-only fund and a hedge fund, didn’t suffer a significant loss from the investment. Its $3.1 billion hedge fund gained nearly 14% in April, that person said.

Luckin Chairman Lu Zhengyao said in a statement on Wednesday that he’s “deeply disappointed” Nasdaq is moving to delist the shares before his company releases final results of an internal probe into its accounting.

(Updates with Tybourne exposure in 14th paragraph.)

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