January 19, 2011 / 4:52 PM / 9 years ago

RUSAL co-owners still back Norilsk sale -source

* Vekselberg and Prokhorov back Norilsk stake sale - source

* Norilsk may renew offer to buy the stake - source

* Norilsk 2010 dividend unlikely - source

By Polina Devitt and Aleksandras Budrys

MOSCOW, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Two big shareholders in top aluminium producer UC RUSAL (0486.HK) still want the company to sell its 25 percent stake in the miner Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM) to Norilsk, a source close to the talks said on Wednesday.

“(Viktor) Vekselberg and (Mikhail) Prokhorov indicated that they are supporting the continuation of the talks (about the stake sale),” the source told reporters, referring to two Russian businessmen who own around a third of RUSAL.

The sale could bring to an end a bitter shareholder battle over the world’s biggest nickel producer, featuring rival tycoons Vladimir Potanin on one side, and RUSAL’s Oleg Deripaska on the other. [ID:nLDE6BT0ET]

“The two would probably like Norilsk to raise the price so that they could have something with which to persuade (Oleg) Deripaska,” the source said.

“Norilsk is examining a possibility to renew its offer and does not exclude adjusting the price,” the source added. “Norilsk is capable of making a new offer, but this would depend on a positive movement on the RUSAL part.”

NO KNOWLEDGE

UC RUSAL, majority owned by Deripaska, rejected in December an offer from Norilsk for the stake.

Norilsk said it offered $13 billion, although sources close to the firm put the figure higher at $14 billion.

RUSAL denied knowledge of Prokhorov’s and Vekselberg’s intentions regarding Norilsk.

“RUSAL is a public company and the only organ that has the right to decide on any RUSAL deals is its board. We have no knowledge of any negotiations of shareholders on the stake sale,” RUSAL said in an emailed comment.

RUSAL filed lawsuits on Friday to annul three deals that would strengthen rival tycoon Vladimir Potanin’s hand in a battle for control of Norilsk. [ID:nLDE70D0YM]

Norilsk is currently buying back its shares from shareholders for $3 billion and may spend another $1.5 billion in the following 12 months to buy more shares from the market. The buyback will lower RUSAL’s influence in Norilsk further.

The source said Norilsk is unlikely to pay a dividend for 2010 based on expected profits for the last year and the buyback. But, the source added, Norilsk’s board and the management have not yet discussed the dividend issue. (Writing by Aleksandras Budrys, Editing by John Bowker and Louise Heavens)

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