On November 18, 2020, analyst Muddy Waters announced that it would short JOYY, Inc. (NASDAQ: YY), calling JOYY “a multibillion-dollar fraud.” Muddy Waters wrote that “YY’s component businesses are a fraction of the size it reports, and that the company’s reported user metrics, revenues, and cash balances are predominantly fraudulent.” The market was stunned by this report, and as a result, shares of JOYY common stock fell over 26% in just a few hours.
A lawsuit has been filed against JOYY and certain of its executives in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit is captioned Hershewe v. JOYY Inc., et al., No. 20-cv-10611 (C.D. Cal.). The Muddy Waters’ report continued: “While trawling the sewers of the world’s capital markets over the past 10 years, irony has never been in short supply. And yet, nothing could prepare us for the surreality of Baidu announcing its intention to buy YY Live from JOYY, which happened just as we were preparing to reveal that our year-long investigation shows YY Live is about 90% fraudulent. It was clear to us from early on that YY Live was almost entirely fake.” The lawsuit asserts that JOYY dramatically overstated its revenues from live streaming sources. It further alleges that at any given time, the majority of JOYY’s users were bots, which JOYY used to effect a roundtripping scheme that manufactured the false appearance of revenues. Moreover, the lawsuit asserts that JOYY’s acquisition of Bigo was largely contrived to benefit corporate insiders.