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By Nadia Damouni and Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Neuberger Berman LLC, one of OfficeMax Inc's top shareholders, said it would support a merger with Office Depot Inc depending on terms of the deal, according to a portfolio manager at the investment firm.
Responding to media reports, Benjamin Nahum of Neuberger Berman, told Reuters in an interview that his preference would be for OfficeMax to declare a special dividend before merging with Office Depot.
"In our view this would facilitate a fair deal," Nahum said.
Earlier on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that OfficeMax and Office Depot were in advanced talks to merge.
Neuberger Berman said OfficeMax shareholders should be compensated for "the balance sheet strength that we bring to this combined entity."
The news came months after the investment firm called on the third-largest U.S. office supply chain to return money to shareholders in the form of a dividend or share repurchases and raised the specter of a proxy fight next year if the retailer fails to comply.
According to Thomson Reuters' data, Neuberger Berman owns 4.76 percent of OfficeMax, making it the third-largest shareholder of the Naperville, Illinois company.
OfficeMax and Office Depot did not comment on the news of a potential deal.