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Ireland's Smurfit eyes acquisitions, hikes dividend

Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 | 3:25 AM ET

* Looking for acquisitions in Americas, eastern Europe

* Raises dividend 50 pct, considers returning more cash

* Shares rise nearly 5 pct

DUBLIN, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Irish packaging group Smurfit Kappa is looking for acquisitions in the Americas and eastern Europe and will return cash to shareholders if it doesn't find the right target, it said on Wednesday.

Smurfit, which designs and manufactures paper-based packaging for the likes of Unilever and Procter & Gamble, raised its dividend by 50 percent to 30.75 cents a share after posting a jump in fourth-quarter results.

Its shares rose 4.7 percent to 18.95 euros by 0817 GMT, supported by the higher payout to investors.

"Our focus is on doing M&A (mergers and acquisitions)," Chief Financial Officer Ian Curley told reporters. "If we don't find any to do, we will return capital to shareholders."

Smurfit, whose pretax profit rose 91 percent to 62 million euros ($85 million) in the fourth quarter, is looking at purchases in the high growth areas of the Americas and eastern Europe in particular, it said in a statement.

The company brought down its net debt by 6 percent in 2013 to 2.6 billion euros, which boosts its available cash.

"For a long time, the company used its strong cash generation to pay down debt. Now that the balance sheet has been repaired, shareholders should really start to get the benefit of the cash," said Barry Dixon of Davy Research.

($1 = 0.7312 euros)

(Reporting by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Potter)