Despite Helping Lead The Largest Debt Offering In Merck’s History, Goldman Sachs Remains “Neutral” On Merck Stock

And that “fence-sitting” posture puts Goldman’s analysts in the distinct minority view — especially post the ASCO meetings of Sunday afternoon.

But remember, Merck has deputized Goldman to “buy back” vast amounts of Merck stock, in the open market — so, Goldman will naturally want to hold the prices paid for those shares down — to look like a hero, in the Whitehouse Station progress report meetings.

The skeptic in me wonders whether — because Goldman bankers are reputed to be the smartest on the planet — they are simply covering their tracks for a bit, here on their conflicted transactional roles. [To be clear, I do think the Goldman analysts are complying with their Reg AC duties — I think they actually believe what they are writing about Merck.]

Having said that, Goldman is and remains clearly listed as an up to 99 million share buyer, or up to $5 billion in dollar value — of Merck common stock — over the next six or so months. [UPDATED | 06.05.13 @ 9 AM EDT: I should clarify that Goldman has also agreed, on a firmly committed basis, to sell that many shares back to Merck, in the coming months. But Goldman must get those shares, from somewhere. And that is the rub, here — it is highly unlikely that Goldman previously held, for its own account, 99 million Merck shares. It may have had to buy many of its private wealth clients shares back (in the legacy Schering-Plough ENHANCE meltdown, since the legacy Schering-Plough debt was a convertible) — but that would be a stretch. Goldman wouldn’t likely hold that many Merck shares on its own balance sheet, for that many quarters. Even so, I suppose it is possible, but not probable, that Goldman will not need to go “to the Street” (or its own private wealth clients) to find the shares to sell back to Merck, here. But I’d bet that it will. And as ever, Goldman will make money, coming and going.]

And Goldman will ALSO want to tell their own private wealth investor clients that the bank will get “top-dollar” for the clients’ Merck shares — if the clients agree to sell into the Merck repurchase program. Thus (in my estimation) Goldman’s safest course now is to stay “just like a little flutter of Swiss butterflies” — on Merck’s equity values.

Here’s a quick run-down of where the various equity analysts stand (most of whom are not so deeply conflicted), and on average 12 month target prices, too — do go read it all:

. . . .Analysts at MKM Partners raised their price target on shares of Merck & Co from $54.00 to $59.00 in a research note to investors on Monday. They now have a “buy” rating on the stock. Separately, analysts at SunTrust initiated coverage on shares of Merck & Co in a research note to investors on Thursday, May 30th. They set a “neutral” rating on the stock. Finally, analysts at Jefferies Group upgraded shares of Merck & Co from a “hold” rating to a “buy” rating in a research note to investors on Tuesday, May 28th. They now have a $54.00 price target on the stock, up previously from $48.00.

Two analysts have rated the stock with a sell rating, six have issued a hold rating and twelve have assigned a buy rating to the company’s stock. Merck & Co presently has an average rating of “Buy” and an average price target of $50.93. . . .

We will keep you posted, but I’d not bet against Merck — over the next 12 months — as I’ve said repeatedly, here.

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