Goldman Sachs Says Buy Megafon—Despite IPO Snub
MegaFon's $1.7 billion share offering raised eyebrows last year when Goldman Sachs pulled out as lead bookrunner close to launch — but the investment bank has now issued a "buy" rating on the stock.
The Russian telecoms company, part-owned by Russia's richest man, Alisher Usmanov, also known for his stakes in Facebook and Arsenal soccer club, was also rated "outperform" by Credit Suisse analysts and "overweight" by Barclays on Tuesday morning, after listing in London at the end of November.
Yet it will be the Goldmans rating which draws most attention, not just because the analysts making the call are well-respected, but because of their colleagues' concerns about corporate governance at the company.
The team of analysts at Goldman Sachs set a target price of $31 for the MegaFon stock, a more than 20 percent uplift from its closing share price on Monday. An improving Russian telecoms market, the importance of mobile data — an area in which MegaFon is particularly strong — and an expected dividend yield of 8 percent to 10 percent were the key reasons for the top rating of the stock.
MegaFon kicked off its IPO at $20 per share, at the lower end of the $20 to $25 valuation, before trading lower in following weeks. The share price has since risen, and was close to $25 in London on Tuesday.
(Read More: The MegaFon IPO)
Credit Suisse analysts Olga Bystrova and Richard Barker set a $30 target price for the stock, arguing that the company has a network advantage in Russia and has invested well in future sources of network revenue.
Usmanov told CNBC in an exclusive interview in December that he "continues to respect" Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and that he will "continue to work" with the bank on other investments, despite the MegaFon issues. He also described Blankfein as "a great financier and banker."
(Read More: CNBC Talks to Alisher Usmanov)
Asked about the withdrawal by Goldmans, Usmanov claimed: "They felt that they needed … to make certain verification, certain clarification and we for our part felt that we could not wait. We didn't want to wait. And therefore we said that either you accept our plan and our schedule or we will proceed without you. We will move on."
She added: "It's not a question of Goldman Sachs rejecting us or us rejecting them. We just decided to proceed to move on."
—By CNBC's Catherine Boyle; Follpow her on Twitter @cboylecnbc.