‘Walking dead’ on the TSX Venture Exchange: How are ‘zombie’ companies surviving? – by Peter Koven (National Post – April 7, 2015)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Management at the TSX Venture Exchange would probably appreciate it if Tony Simon just shut his mouth for a while.

As the co-founder of the Venture Capital Markets Association, Mr. Simon is an unlikely torchbearer for the theory that Canada’s market for junior resource stocks is broken and the Venture Exchange is part of the problem. But he has assumed that role with gusto in the past few weeks as his thoughts have reached an increasing number of ears. It is hard to imagine that anyone else is causing more headaches for the Venture Exchange these days.

Mr. Simon, for his part, thinks he is just stating the obvious. “This is not something that’s an unknown problem,” the Vancouver-based entrepreneur said. The Venture management team has fired back, completely denying his claims that they are not doing their jobs properly.

However one feels about the debate, all would agree that Mr. Simon’s research paints a frightening portrait of Canada’s junior exploration sector. It raises questions about how hundreds of tiny resource companies can continue to exist. Sources said that auditors are offering these companies cut-rate fees to maintain their viability.

The controversy started in February, when Mr. Simon published research suggesting there are about 600 “zombie” resource companies on the TSX Venture Exchange that are not meeting listing requirements and should be de-listed. His report has spread around, even getting picked up by Zero Hedge, the influential U.S. financial blog.

The big numbers are grim: by Mr. Simon’s calculation, these “zombies” have combined negative working capital of greater than $2 billion. Raising money has become impossible for many of these junior firms as market conditions have deteriorated over the past few years. Now they are just “walking dead” companies with no serious prospects that pose a threat to investors looking at the sector, he said.

So why are they still around? Mr. Simon noted that TMX Group Inc. is a profitable corporation that relies on listing fees for revenue. He believes the exchange is failing to enforce its own rules, and also blames auditors and securities regulators for not doing enough to crack down on these companies and protect investors.

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