The multibillion-dollar business of Freedom Finance, which previously was known as just a broker and a bank, has changed dramatically.
What do we see in 2023? There is no longer such a bank as Freedom in Russia, while in Kazakhstan, the company has grown into a massive digital ecosystem.
Moreover, Freedom Holding, a parent company for all assets of Freedom in 16 countries, is growing not only in the CIS but also in Europe and the U.S., where it is pursuing the goal of becoming a big investment bank.
So, the question is, are these plans based on a solid foundation or just a result of the unbounded ambitions of Timur Turlov, founder of Freedom Holding, and his team?
The Stock’s Performance: +600%
In October 2019, when Freedom Holding Corp. was listed on NASDAQ, the company touted this undertaking as a unique development for the investment business in the CIS. At the time of initial listing, Freedom’s shares were traded at $14 per share; four years later they are valued at $85.
The past month was a real roller coaster for the stock when its value jumped from $70 to $101, a historical high. As of today, the holding’s shares are stable and trade at $85. Even if this correction is taken into account, the stock’s growth was good. However, such volatility can raise questions among thorough investors.
What happened? Freedom Holding was attacked by Hindenburg Research, a fund that specializes in analyzing different businesses to find any kind of financial wrongdoing. When Hindenburg issues its value-destroying reports, it makes a profit through short selling. (The fund shorts certain securities and when their value plummets after publishing its negative impact article, it would buy them again at a cheaper price.) Hindenburg became well-known in early 2023 when its report brought down the stock value of Adani Group, the Indian company controlled by billionaire Gautam Adani.
Then, on August 15, Hindenburg Research issued a bearish report about Freedom Finance, accusing the holding of close contact with Russia (the report claimed that Freedom allegedly was still in control of its Russian assets), falsifying financial statements, and breaching international sanctions.
Finally, the American bears paid attention to Turlov who, of course, delighted many of his haters. The report was based on a so-called investigation by Hindenburg. The fund allegedly interviewed a former employee of Freedom Holding within the entire year, examined a bunch of international reports of the company, and conducted an industry analysis.
When this report was published, the stock value of Freedom Holding dropped by 8% but then rebounded during that same day. Later that week, the company’s shares were traded at $100 per share. Even though Hindenburg is quite experienced in preparing its value-destroying reports, it failed to pull this trick with Freedom.
Freedom reacted immediately by calling the investigation by Hindenburg Research speculation and a set of unverified allegations. However, you can’t stop short sellers and calm down investors after such serious accusations with just words.
The situation might have been devastating if Turlov’s company hadn’t published an annual financial statement with an analysis by an independent auditor two weeks before the attack. The document that provides answers to each accusation by Hindenburg is available on the website of the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) (https://www.sec.gov/ix?doc=/Archives/edgar/data/924805/000092480523000076/frhc-20230331.htm).
Firstly, how on earth can you doubt the fact of selling Russian assets if the deal was officially approved and confirmed by the Bank of Russia? As a U.S.-listed company, Freedom has decisively distanced itself from Russia in order to avoid sanctions and keep the trust of its international shareholders.
After February 2022, Timur Turlov had no appetite for such kinds of risks. He has focused on the development of his business in Kazakhstan and worldwide. Turlov and his family have been living in Kazakhstan for years and he is now a Kazakhstani citizen, which means that he no longer possesses a Russian passport.
Secondly, the auditor took his time and thoroughly examined transactions by Freedom and its clients as well as compliance procedures that subsidiaries of the holding rely on to ensure that new clients and their capital aren’t toxic. If the auditor had seen any wrongdoing or learned that Freedom was involved in rendering services to sanctioned individuals or laundering money, it wouldn’t have issued its positive audit opinion.
Much of the auditor’s attention was focused on assessing whether Freedom follows the Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) rules. As a result, no breaching of sanctions was found, while compliance procedures in Freedom were acknowledged as highly professional.
Turlov even arranged an online live-streaming session for shareholders and clients where he commented on each accusation in detail. “Auditors have thoroughly checked all our procedures and compliance measures we have deployed; they also examined how our automated process of account opening and monitoring of clients works.
Moreover, our auditors wanted to see information about client accounts and balances. All structures within the holding disclosed this information,” he said. The businessman admitted that like many other financial organizations, Freedom had clients who later were added to the sanction list. “All transactions with these clients were closely monitored and then we stopped our business relations with them,” he said.
Thirdly, concerning the alleged falsification of financial statements on revenue, the auditor (it was well-known company Deloitte, by the way) has also checked and confirmed the company’s balance and finances, including its revenue.
As a result, the stock value of FRHC didn’t decline. In fact, the share price kept growing. The short sellers were forced to buy the stock at a higher price, losing their money and pushing Freedom’s share price even higher (it was a so-called short squeeze). The trade volume with the holding’s security was more than $100 million a day and as we said before, the share price reached $101 at its peak. In other words, Freedom won in the fight it didn’t start, while the attackers were left bruised and beaten.
The Freedom Finance empire
But does anyone put his money in FRHC now? Let’s look at the company’s business, which is exactly what Freedom’s owner Turlov always advises investors to do in the first place. By now, Freedom Finance runs branch offices in 16 countries; it has more than 370,000 clients and its annual revenue is about $795 million (+15% year to year).
In Kazakhstan, Freedom has two brokers (one provides services for the local market and another operates within the Astana International Financial Center under international law), a bank, and two insurance companies. In the U.S., the holding’s Freedom Capital Markets has an underwrite’s license and has already organized several initial public offerings (https://kz.kursiv.media/2023-07-03/fnsk-free/).
This happened thanks to a series of deals: in 2021 Freedom acquired Prime Executions and in early 2023 it also bought the American investment bank Maxim Group and LD Micro, a data company in the micro-cap space.
The latest undertaking is the establishment of Freedom Telecom. In order to boost its ecosystem and products, Freedom needs a telecom company with its own network. This new company is going to be a 5G operator in the near future and change the very economics of this business.
For example, the company is going to figure out how it can build an optic fiber network for high-speed internet throughout Kazakhstan ten times cheaper than it costs now. It also wants to improve the process of basic station installation. The new telecom operator wants to focus on expanding its infrastructure and making the deployment of the mobile network cheaper.
This is necessary for new digital products by Freedom and to make medicine, education and security of the future come true in Kazakhstan. “Telecom will be the core of our ecosystem, the pillar that will let us change the very idea of the decision-making process in terms of speed and efficacy, minimize mistakes, expand access to digital products, and improve the quality of life,” Turlov explained.
Freedom Holding will publish its financial report for Q1 of the new fiscal year (April, May and June 2023) soon. Once it is available, we’ll see how the holding structures have been operating after the full-scale transformation of its business.
When commenting on investments, Timur Turlov always urges investors not to give up. “Investments want you to treat them carefully. They require discipline and immersion into the sphere. They won’t excuse you if you treat them as a game, a bet in a casino, or easy money.
On the other hand, if you are going to be serious with investments, they can be very generous in return,” he said. It seems that he believes in what he says and sticks to this approach himself. However, it is always up to you whether you buy his company’s shares or use its services.
Ankita Tripathy loves to write about food and the Hallyu Wave in particular. During her free time, she enjoys looking at the sky or reading books while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Her favourite niches are food, music, lifestyle, travel, and Korean Pop music and drama.