Berry Shares Fairly Valued for Linn Merger: Sterne Agee
Berry's proposed merger comes amid scrutiny from major financial media and independent research firms into the financial health of Linn Energy. Questions about the ability of Linn Energy to fund its large dividend and its accounting practices on derivative hedges have caused significant volatility in the company's shares and its all-stock exchange with Berry.
Rezvan of Sterne Agee says the media scrutiny has created bumps in Linn and Berry's road to a merger, however, those issues aren't likely to nix the deal altogether. The analyst indicated recent analysis from Barron's and Hedgeye Risk Management put a spotlight on derivative accounting practices at Linn Energy that the investment community had already brought to light.
"[We] continue to believe shareholders will vote for the deal and it should close in the third quarter," Rezvan wrote in a June 20 note to clients. The analyst values Berry Petroleum at $44 a share in a completed merger, however, he cautions that shares could fall to the mid-$30's if a merger deal were to be broken."[A] haircut would be needed on a deal break as management re-engages itself, which could pressure shares to the mid-$30s as merger arb players exit the stock," Rezvan noted. Leon Cooperman of Omega Advisors said on CNBC Wednesday the hedge fund has received positive feedback from Berry Petroleum on its merger with Linn Energy. Cooperman said in the interview the $8.4 billion hedge fund has also done its homework on Linn Energy and remains an investor in the embattled oil and gas driller. Omega Advisors is Linn Energy's largest outside investor, with a 3.05% holding in the company's shares worth more than $200 million, according to March 31 Securities and Exchange Commission filings compiled by Bloomberg. Linn Energy is also Omega's fifth-largest investment, after stakes in Sprint Nextel (S), AIG (AIG), SLM Corp. (SLM) and SiriusXM Radio Nextel (SIRI), the data showed. Omega Advisors isn't concerned with how Linn Energy accounts for a hedging program the firm has in place to reduce its exposure to volatile energy prices, Cooperman said on Wednesday. "We have done our homework," Cooperman said of Omega's investment in Linn Energy. He also referenced similar Omega investments such as Atlas Energy (ATLS) and Atlas Pipeline Partners (APL). Houston-based Linn Energy has seen its shares fluctuate sharply as both Barron's and Hedgeye question Linn Energy's ability to fund its current dividend and, consequently, the company's share price. Linn's stock valuation and the strength of its financial position are of big importance as the company works to close an all-stock transaction involving LinnCo (LNCO), a subsidiary set up to purchase the firm's shares, and Denver-based Berry Petroleum (BRY). Were that merger to be completed, Linn Energy says it will be able to increase its annual dividend to $3.08 a share, or a yield of about 9% at current share prices. On Tuesday morning, Hedgeye Risk Management hosted a conference call to detail its analysis of why Linn Energy's dividend may be hard to support and its shares are overvalued. Shares in Linn Energy, however, reversed early Tuesday share price losses when TheStreet first reported Cooperman's continued support of the company as its leading outside shareholder. Linn Energy shares have gained about 15% since Tuesday morning lows. LinnCo shares have gained about 12% from Tuesday lows, while Berry shares were up over 5% from their lows on Tuesday. Jim Cramer, founder of TheStreet and contributor to Real Money Pro, currently owns Linn Energy shares in his Action Alerts PLUS charitable trust, along with Co-Portfolio Manager Stephanie Link. Cramer has supported Linn Energy and invited CEO Mark E. Ellis on his CNBC show Mad Money to rebut Barron's analysis. -- Written by Antoine Gara in New York Follow @antoinegara
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