Russian Facebook rival eyes 2012 stake sale, IPO
* Vkontakte.ru eyes 3 pct stake sale to boost valuation
* Sees potential IPO in 2012 or 2013
* Mail.ru is a near 40 percent shareholder
By John Bowker
MOSCOW, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Russia's biggest social network Vkontakte.ru may sell a small stake ahead of an initial public offering in 2012 or 2013, its co-founder told the website Gazeta.ru, as it seeks to cash-in on the huge popularity of Russian internet IPOs.
The search engine Yandex and the internet group Mail.ru have raised nearly $2.5 billion in New York and London between them in the past 15 months, a quarter of the total raised in all Russian IPOs since the 2008 financial crisis.
"We think it will be possible to proceed with an IPO in 2012 or 2013," the website's founder Pavel Durov told Gazeta.ru.
"We may sell a small stake -- around 3 percent -- before the IPO in order to increase the market capitalisation of the company," he said, adding there were no ongoing talks to sell the stake to Mail.ru, Yandex or Google.
Durov would not comment on how much the company wants to raise or whether it was in talks with investment banks.
Vkontakte.ru, known as Russia's answer to Facebook, is 39.9 percent owned by Mail.ru, and is therefore likely to need the support of its biggest external investor were it to proceed with the float.
Mail.ru offered to increase its stake to over 50 percent last year in a deal that would have valued the company at $3.75 billion, according to business daily Vedomosti, but Durov and his co-founders did not want to give up a controlling stake.
Mail.ru could not immediately be reached for comment, while Vkontakte did not respond to e-mailed inquiries.
David Ferguson, an analyst at Renaissance Capital, said Vkontakte.ru could be valued at anything between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, depending on the model used. He added that an acquisition by Mail.ru would generate cost savings as the two companies could share web-hosting operations.
Vkontakte.ru says it has over 100 million registered users and 33 million unique visitors a day, although it is also known to have an issue with spam and with internet piracy.
It generated revenue of $93.8 million in 2010, the last available period for financial figures.
Internet firms have proven more popular with foreign investors than other Russian private companies as they are seen as immune to country-specific risks such as corruption, investors told Reuters last year.
Russia has also fast become Europe's biggest online market, overtaking Germany in terms of number of unique visitors online, according to internet monitor Comscore.
The high profile of the Yandex and Mail.ru IPOs have echoed the heavy interest in online floats in the United States, including online games maker Zynga and professional network site LinkedIn.
However Yandex shares have halved since the first day of trading following its blockbuster Nasdaq IPO last May, while Mail.ru's stock is down around 20 percent from its peak.
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