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Proposed spin-off of Nornickel copper mine may ease dividend talks -analysts

MOSCOW, March 29 (Reuters) - A proposal by Nornickel to distribute its 50% stake in the Bystrinsky copper mine among its own shareholders may ease dividend discussions between the Russian metal producer’s two co-owners, analysts said.

Nornickel said last week that the spin-off of the mine near the Russia-China border would happen within two years subject to regulatory and other approvals. Its major shareholders - Rusal with a 27.8% stake and Interros with 34.6% - support the plan.

“We see the potential spin-off as a bargaining chip in discussions among Nornickel’s main shareholders about its dividend policy,” analysts at Sova Capital said in a note on Monday.

Nornickel’s board is due to meet on Monday to discuss its dividend policy, which is set under an agreement between Interros, controlled by businessman and Nornickel chief executive Vladimir Potanin, and aluminium producer Rusal, which relies on Nornickel’s dividend payments in difficult years.

Interros and Rusal have a long history of debate over the dividend policy, with Potanin’s company currently proposing lower payouts to help fund planned investment.

The Bystrinsky spin-off is the first compromise on a major deal between Nornickel’s majority shareholders since at least 2013, VTB Capital said. This “might be supportive for sentiment ahead of” Nornickel’s Monday board meeting, it added.

Rusal said in a statement on Monday that if the spin-off happens, it would get 14% of the new company which it may then sell to Potanin for $570 million.

Interros confirmed that preliminary arrangement, but declined to comment to Reuters on whether the timing of the spin-off plan was related to dividend discussions.

The Bystrinsky mine produces concentrates of copper, gold and iron ore, and is separate from Nornickel’s main production in the Arctic.

VTB Capital added that the spin-off may be the first major step towards Bystrinsky’s initial public offering, something Nornickel has been considering for years after spinning off its gold assets in 2006 to creating Polyus, Russia’s largest gold producer. (Reporting by Polina Devitt and Anastasia Lyrchikova; editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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