What: Shares of VimpelCom (NASDAQ:VEON), one of the largest telecom service providers in the former Soviet provinces of Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, to name a few, soared by 15% during Wednesday's trading session after reporting its fourth-quarter results, and announcing a key legal settlement.
So what: Today's headline was expected to be the company's Q4 report, but the primary reason shares of VimpelCom rallied was based off an announcement that it had reached a legal settlement with U.S. and Dutch regulators over anti-corruption laws. VimpelCom had been under a long-running investigation into bribery in Uzbekistan.
Today's deal, which still needs to be agreed upon in court, would have VimpelCom admit to wrongdoing in Uzbekistan, and pay fines equating to $900 million. What's important about this is VimpelCom had already set aside $900 million for this litigation, meaning the fines -- should the courts agree -- won't exceed its initial estimates. In other words, it removes a big cloud of uncertainty that had draped VimpelCom's stock.
In addition to its legal settlement, VimpelCom reported fourth-quarter organic revenue growth of 1%, and organic EBITDA growth of 5%.
Now what: The good news for shareholders is that they can finally turn their attention to the important catalyst driving VimpelCom -- i.e., earnings -- as opposed to focusing on the "what if's" concerning its legal issues.
When it comes to earnings growth, VimpelCom does have challenges to overcome. The company's growth has been pretty tepid -- think low single-digit percentages -- and it's dealing with a major devaluation in the Russian ruble, which is hurting its results. Weakness throughout Russia and its surrounding territories tied to the collapse in crude prices is the icing on the cake. Slowly, but surely, this economic weakness trickles down to consumers, making them think twice about their discretionary spending habits.
On the flip side, VimpelCom also has plenty of opportunity to build out its infrastructure, and partner with its peers, to take advantage of consumers' insatiable appetites for data. The rollout of 4G and LTE services in select regions presents an important opportunity for device upgrades, and thus, data plan upgrades.
Right now, I'd consider VimpelCom to be modestly attractive, but would caution that it's only for consumers with a strong stomach for volatility. If you're willing to hold VimpelCom for the long term, the upgrade cycle to new devices could wind up paying off nicely.