A Russian search engine is set to embark on what could be the biggest float by an online firm since Google raised US$1.67 billion ($2 billion) in 2004.

Yandex, which had 38 million unique users in March, plans to sell its shares at between US$24 and US$25 apiece when it makes its debut in New York today.

The stock was initially on track to be sold at between US$20 and US$22 apiece - but the search engine pitched for a higher range as investors, spurred on by the success of the social networking site LinkedIn's float last week, sought a piece of the action. The revised guidance means Yandex could raise as much as US$1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) with its Nasdaq listing.

The group, which could be valued anywhere from US$7.7 billion to US$8 billion, controls 65 per cent of Russia's internet search market. Last year, its earnings rose by a heady 90 per cent to US$135 million on sales that grew by 43 per cent to US$445 million.

Hopes are running high in the wake of the LinkedIn initial public offering, with the networking site's shares more than doubling in their public trading debut last Friday. But the buzz has reminded some of the stretched valuations seen during the dot.com boom at the turn of the century.

Investors have also seen Microsoft pay US$8.5 billion for internet phone service Skype that led many to criticise the software giant for overpaying. Still, the Yandex float comes against the backdrop of expectations of strong growth in online advertising - which is set to further boost the company's bottom line.

- Independent