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Vimpel Posts Loss as Acquisition Turns Sour


NEW YORK, May 13, 2009. Vimpel Communications, the Russian telecom, did its best to dress up a dispiriting fourth-quarter earnings report Wednesday. 
Trumpeting revenue growth of 27%, which included added business brought on by the acquisition of a Ukrainian telecom firm last year, Vimpel nonetheless had to take more than $1.4 billion in write-downs and goodwill impairments related to that very acquisition and the leverage it used to do it. 
It's Vimpel's second-straight quarter of losses, and investors appeared to react: the company's NYSE-listed American Depository Shares dropped by as much 7% in morning trading Wednesday on heavy volume. 
Vimpel, the second-largest cell-phone concern in Russia, blamed the write-downs on the steep depreciation of the ruble, which once again increased the cost of the company's debt, since much of that debt is denominated in dollars. With the ruble's decline, Vimpel wrote down its dollar-denominated long-term debt by just over $1 billion. It did the same by $341 million last quarter. 
Back in Februrary 2008, Vimple took on a big dose of leverage to purchase Golden Telecom, a Ukrainian cell-phone and Internet service provider, for $4.3 billion. 
Last month, Moody's downgraded Vimpel's debt ratings to negative from positive, citing the company's worsening balance sheet in the wake of the Golden buyout. 
In large part because of the "increased risk perception" suggested by the Moody's downgrade, Vimpel wrote down the value of Golden Telecom by $443 million. 
Vimpel's bottom line, then, was a loss of $816 million, down from a profit a year ago of $368 million. For each ADR, that's a loss of 81 cents. Revenue was $2.56 billion, compared with $2 billion a year ago.
The company also gave some vague, albeit rather obvious, warnings about its business for the rest of the year. In the first part of 2009, Vimpel said, "economic conditions in all our markets are deteriorating with a substantial drop in industrial production and growing unemployment. We anticipate that these developments could have a negative impact on the telecom sector."

Scott Eden,

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