Bouygues faces crossroads choice on telecoms business

Tue Jun 23, 2015 9:23am EDT
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By Leila Abboud

PARIS (Reuters) - Martin Bouygues, scion of one of France's top industrialist families, must decide on Tuesday whether to part with the telecoms business that is his main contribution to the conglomerate built by his father.

The Bouygues (BOUY.PA: Quote) board is due to meet later on Tuesday to discuss what sources said was a 10-billion-euro ($11.3 billion) bid by European telecom group Altice ATCE.AS. In reality, the decision lies with the 63-year-old Bouygues alone.

"No-one really knows what is on his mind, whether he'll sell now," said one person familiar with the situation.

"(But) if he sells, he'll have commanded an amazing price for the business he founded and carries his name," the source said of a business ranked as France's third-largest mobile player.

Martin Bouygues has already rebuffed at least two offers in the past year for the unit he founded in 1994, insisting as recently as last month that Bouygues Telecom could prosper on its own. He once even rebuffed a question about selling the business by firing back at a journalist: "And you, would you sell your wife?"

But the offer by Altice's Patrick Drahi outstrips all past approaches. Drahi's own empire-building took off in 2014 when he beat out Bouygues to acquire Vivendi's (VIV.PA: Quote) SFR, the second-biggest mobile operator.

The 10 billion-euro price tag would value the unit as much as the entire Bouygues group before the offer was made public. It also eclipses earlier offers from Orange (ORAN.PA: Quote) and low-cost operator Iliad (ILD.PA: Quote) - each around 5.5 billion euros - as well as a previous 8 billion-euro approach by Drahi.

The business, which has been posting losses since Iliad broke into the French mobile market three years ago, had a 2014 total asset value of 5.8 billion euros.   Continued...

Martin Bouygues, CEO of Bouygues, speaks at the inauguration ceremony for the Henri Konan Bedie toll bridge in Abidjan December 16, 2014.     REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon