Mail.ru eyes special dividend and VK deal after sales

BARCELONA Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:00pm EST

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BARCELONA Nov 15 (Reuters) - Russian group Mail.ru will consider using proceeds from recent U.S. internet asset sales to pay a special dividend and would still like to buy a larger stake in social network Vkontakte.

Managing director Matthew Hammond also told a conference organised by Morgan Stanley that the email-to-social network group had smaller targets in mind with cash raised from stake sales in U.S. groups Facebook, Groupon and Zynga .

"Our cash on the balance sheet is somewhere between $850 and $900 million," he said on Thursday.

"Mail has always been very clear that we do not see a case for sitting on excess cash on the balance sheet. Earlier this year we paid the largest special dividend, I think, in internet history. We paid $795 million and I think that is a pretty good illustration of the way that we think about excess cash."

Mail.ru, part-owned by metals tycoon Alisher Usmanov, announced the asset sales earlier this month. It now has a 0.52 percent stake in Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, 0.84 percent of daily deal website Groupon, and 0.16 percent of U.S. game maker Zynga.

Mail also owns 40 percent of Vkontakte (VK) and the group, which describes itself as the largest internet company in the Russian-speaking world, has made it clear it would also like to take control of the social network peer.

"It clearly makes enormous amounts of strategic sense for VK to be a part of Mail," he said. "But this is a deal that needs to be done at the right price. We are a 40 percent shareholder, so, we obviously are always in discussions with the other parties.

"We have always been very clear that we would like to buy it. But quite clearly there are differences on price," he said, adding Mail would focus on combining the back office functions of VK with its existing internet operations if it succeeded. (Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Dan Lalor)

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