* Mail.Ru says Facebook was a financial, not strategic asset
* Company has sold stakes in other U.S. internet firms
* Analysts expect Mail.Ru to use cash for special dividend
By Megan Davies
MOSCOW, Sept 5 Russian internet firm Mail.Ru
has sold its remaining shares in social network group
Facebook Inc for $525 million, making a hefty profit on
its original investment and paving the way for a possible
one-off payout to shareholders.
Mail.Ru, part-owned by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov,
bought a small stake in Facebook for $200 million in 2009.
It sold some of that in the U.S. group's flotation last
year, and has also sold its shares in U.S. daily deal website
Groupon and game maker Zynga as part of a
drive to focus on its Russian operations.
"This is consistent with everything they've said since their
IPO, which is these were non-core investments and they would
dispose of them at an appropriate time and return cash to
shareholders," said Renaissance Capital analyst David Ferguson.
"It is an ongoing recognition that their focus is a core
Russia social, communication and gaming business, and that's
where they will continue to allocate their time."
Mail.Ru, which was spun out of social media investor Yuri
Milner's DST funds and went public in 2010, said on Thursday it
sold its remaining 14.2 million Facebook shares - equivalent to
a stake of less than 1 percent - in July and August.
VTB analyst Anastasia Obukhova said the company had picked a
good time to sell.
Facebook shares plunged in the wake of their $38 debut in
May 2012, but have since bounced back to trade above that level,
rising 53 percent so far this year.
Ferguson said he expected Mail.Ru to use the cash to pay a
special dividend which could be announced towards the end of the
year. He estimates the company has around $780 million of cash.
Using the cash to pay dividends would be consistent with
Mail.Ru's past moves. In February, it announced a special
dividend of $4.30 per share, worth $899 million, following the
sale of shares in Groupon, Zynga and Facebook.
Mail.Ru is also expected at some point to sell a stake it
holds in Russian payment transfer company QIWI, which
went public on Nasdaq earlier this year, said Renaissance's
Ferguson, who added the investment is "locked up until 29
October and worth $234 million currently".
Mail.Ru, which did not disclose the details of its previous
Facebook share sale, declined to comment on what it would do
with the proceeds from the latest sale. It also declined to
comment on its plans for the QIWI stake.
At 1115 GMT, Mail.Ru shares were up 2.8 percent.
The company also reported on Thursday a 28 percent rise in
first-half net profit to 5.1 billion roubles ($151.8 million)
and nudged up its revenue growth forecast for 2013 on the back
of fast growth in advertising and games.
It expects its revenue to rise by 27-29 percent in 2013, up
from previous guidance of 25-28 percent, though still below last
year's growth in sales of 39 percent.