Megafon pushes through Russia's largest IPO since 2010

By bne IntelliNews November 28, 2012

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Russian mobile operator Megafon managed to get away its international IPO on November 27. While the pricing of the shares may have been less than hoped for, the success of the largest Russian offer for three years says much about recovering global risk appetite.

At $20 per share, Russia's second largest mobile operator raised $1.7bn. The final price was at the low end of the initial range of $20-$25 and values the company at $11bn. Trading on Micex and the London Stock Exchnage (LSE) under the ticker MFON kicked off on November 28.

The IPO is the largest by a Russian company since RusAl just managed to push through a Hong Kong float in 2010. On the one hand then, the listing is a good test of appetite for Russian stocks, with the IPO market having struggled since the 2008 global crisis hit.

At the same time, just like previous offers such as that of Yandex and, it's also likely that Megafon may prove to be an exception, and that offers from other smaller Russian companies in less attractive sectors could face resistance yet. The recent failure of Promsvyazbank's IPO illustrated that investors remain wary, in particular of high priced offers.

As one of three major companies in Russia's most liberalized and mature sector, Megafon is an exceptional asset. It also offers investors exposure to a purely domestic story, as well as stable cash flows and attractive dividends. Still, as analysts had warned it would have to ahead of the float, Megafon was forced to offer investors a discount to peer MTS, with Alfa Bank estimating the country's biggest mobile operator retained a 3% premium at the offer price.

Megafon has the potential, however, to make up that price difference in the near term. According to unnamed market sources, its shares are expected to be included in the MSCI Russia index, which would offer a considerable boost in demand from index-linked institutional investors. "We believe that any clarification on Megafon's possible inclusion in MSCI Russia (we estimate its potential weighting at 1.2% vs MTS's 4.5% and Rostelecom's 2.2%) could become a post-IPO catalyst for the stock," suggest analysts at Aton Capital.

The float earlier got support from the CEO of Swedish-Finnish telecommunications group TeliaSonera. While the company reduced its stake during the IPO to 35.6%, Lars Nyberg said he planned to invest $2m of his own money. "I have a strong belief in the future prospects of Megafon. As a member of Megafon's board, making a sizeable investment in the company is a way for me to show my commitment," the CEO said in a statement.

Other investors, however, may have robbed Peter to pay Paul. Some analysts worry that the lack of cash on the market for IPOs means investors have sold out of other names in order to participate in the Megafon offer. They add that the shortage of money could affect the planned IPOs of state-owned companies, scheduled to be sold under the privatisation programme, including stakes in shipping group Sovcomflot and diamond monopoly Alrosa.

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