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April 27, 2006 7:33 pm

Bid deadline looms for VNU

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The investor co-ordinating opposition to a €7.5bn ($9.4bn) private equity take-over of VNU claimed on Thursday his alternative plan for the Dutch business information company "has the support of major shareholders".

Eric Knight, managing director of Knight Vinke Asset Management, said: "There are one or two cases where there is more than one fund manager managing the position and we have two going one way and one going the other, but essentially we have the support of the major shareholders."

Investors have until the end of next week to decide on a €28.75-a-share buy-out bid for VNU recommended by the company’s management.

VNU has characterised the offer as the best option for investors. But its warnings of risks to the business should the deal be rejected, have irritated some.

One person familiar with shareholders’ views said: “If the consortium walks away it would not mean that the company would collapse.”

Rejection of the bid is likely to prove the catalyst for demands for new management, that person said.

In a draft of his proposal, Mr Knight employed VNU's own words to stoke opposition to the €28.75 offer. Where VNU said the offer represented "compelling value", Mr Knight called his alternative "a compelling investment opportunity" that would "generate meaningfully greater value for shareholders."

He proposes VNU shareholders or private equity groups tender for 30 per cent of the company, providing an exit for short-term investors, while the remainder of shares would be retained by existing investors.

Of VNU's major shareholders only Fidelity and Robeco have said they are likely to oppose the private-equity offer as too low. Neither would comment on Thursday.

The consortium of Alpinvest, Blackstone, Carlyle, KKR, Hellman & Friedman and Thomas H Lee declined to comment when asked if it had met shareholders or might extend the tender period beyond May 5.

VNU said last night: “We have not seen the details of Eric Knight’s fourth plan for VNU in the last six months so we can’t speak directly to it.

“The bottom line is we have a concrete offer that fully values three years of growth and cost savings projections, with none of the risks and uncertainties associated with achieving them. We’re confident shareholders will recognise this value and tender their shares.”

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