Facebook stake sale by Mail.ru fuels payout optimism

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Mail.ru Group Ltd., billionaire Alisher Usmanov's Internet company, cashed in about $320 million by selling a stake in Facebook Inc.

Shares of the Russian company jumped as much as 7.6 percent in London.

Mail.ru decreased its holding in Facebook to 0.75 percent, the company said today in its third-quarter business update. That compares with 1.34 percent disclosed Sept. 5. Mail.ru sold about 16 million shares in the world's biggest social networking site this month, according to spokeswoman Ksenia Chabanenko. Facebook averaged at $20.41 in October, meaning the shares could have earned $327 million.

Usmanov, who made his fortune in metals and mining, acquired a 10 percent stake in Facebook in 2009. His fund Digital Sky Technologies persuaded founder Mark Zuckerberg to sell by giving up voting rights. Part of Usmanov's stake in Facebook was then transfered to Mail.ru before the Moscow-based company's initial public offering in 2010.

"Investors are hoping that the company will share proceeds with shareholders and pay dividends," said Anna Lepetukhina, an analyst at Sberbank CIB, in an e-mail.

Mail.ru rose as much as $2.45 to $34.65 and was up 2.5 percent at $33 at 12:11 p.m. in London. The stock has gained 27 percent this year. Facebook closed at $23.23 in New York and was down 38 percent since its IPO.

Mail.ru, Usmanov and his managing partner in DST, Yuri Milner, cashed in their investments during Facebook's IPO in May. Mail.ru alone received about $745 million from selling Facebook shares, according to its first-half report. It then agreed to pay $795 million in special dividends in August using the proceeds.

Usmanov invested in Facebook when the company was valued at between $6 billion and $10 billion, the businessman told state television Rossiya 24 in April.

Mail.ru's other technology and Internet investments in the U.S. include Groupon Inc. and Zynga Inc. The company says those may also be sold at the right time and price.

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