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Indonesia's Satellite of Love

Both ADRs have seen declines this year that may have left them at attractive levels. Indosat's ADRs rose from $9.25 in August 2003 to $34.40 this January, but have since fallen back to $28.19 as of Tuesday. Telkom Indonesia, Telkomsel's parent, followed a similar trajectory, rising from $9.35 in August 2003 to $23.68 last December and falling back to $20.24.

It didn't help that Indosat posted disappointing earnings for the first quarter. Despite the selloff, analysts stayed cautious, and some even saw it as a buying opportunity. Research from GK Goh, which has no underwriting relationship with Indosat, noted that the first quarter is seasonally weak and held out hope for a strong 2005.

A broader concern, however, is that the Indonesian wireless market is likely to grow more crowded as non-Indonesian players move in. In March, Hutchison Telecom (HTX), a unit of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, said it planned to buy a 60% stake in Indonesian wireless company PT Cyber Access for $120 million. And Maxis, Malaysia's largest mobile services provider, owns a majority stake of PT Natrindo Telepon Seluler, a small wireless company in Indonesia.

In the face of the growing competition, worries that Indosat would fare poorly in the allocation of 3G frequencies added to its declines earlier this year. More recently, the government has indicated it would allow Indosat a piece of the 3G spectrum.

But these concerns may be priced into the wireless stocks. Verdi Budiman, an analyst with Merrill Lynch, which has no underwriting relationship with Indosat, raised his rating on Indosat from neutral to buy on June 3, arguing that the recent declines have factored in the potential negatives.

"Even if investment plans by new entrants come in according to plan, market share impact may not be felt until 2007," Budiman says. "And when it comes, it will be less than investors feared." He says that the slow reversal of the 3G license allocation indicates that "Indosat will end up with a valid 3G license and spectrum."

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