Vivendi to take weekend to study dueling SFR bids

Fri Apr 4, 2014 5:14pm EDT
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By Leila Abboud, Gwénaëlle Barzic and Sophie Sassard

PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - France's Vivendi said on Friday that its board needed more time to weigh two bids for its SFR telecom business, leaving business and political circles in suspense over a month-long, 15 billion euro takeover battle.

The move came after Bouygues, the outsider in the race but favored by the French government, submitted a last-ditch offer for SFR that put an extra 1.85 billion in cash on the table, taking the total to 15 billion euros ($20.6 billion) plus shares.

Before Bouygues' latest gambit, cable group Numericable had been best-placed to win after Vivendi's board chose it on March 14 for three weeks of exclusive talks.

Numericable's last public offer would have given Vivendi 11.75 billion euros and a 32 percent stake in the new company. But sources close to the deal said it had improved its bid since then to close the gap with Bouygues.

The 13 members of Vivendi's board met for about five hours on Friday before adjourning.

"The board will continue to work over the weekend," said a Vivendi spokeswoman.

It remains to be seen if the board of Vivendi, which is selling SFR as part of a strategy to refocus on its media businesses, will be convinced by Bouygues' latest move - its fourth bid - or stick with its original preference for Numericable.

There could be more twists in the tale if the government weighs in. Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg sided openly with Bouygues last month, arguing that going down to three mobile operators from four would calm "destructive competition".   Continued...

The logo of French telecom operator SFR is seen on a building in the financial district of le Defense at Nanterre, west of Paris, March13, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau