Shares in Aegis, the UK advertising buyer, fell 5 per cent on Thursday as investors lost confidence that WPP of the UK, a rival marketing-services group, and Hellman & Friedman, the US private equity firm, would bid for the company.

The UK Takeover Panel imposed a deadline of noon on Friday for WPP and Hellman to decide on whether to bid for Aegis. If they do not make an offer, they would have to wait another six months to mount another bid.

A spokesman for WPP declined comment, but investors indicated that they did not expect a bid, pushing Aegis shares down 6.75p to 121p in heavy trading.

Aegis shares hit 132p on Monday after it emerged that the company’s leading shareholder, Vincent Bolloré, who is also chairman of French marketing-services group Havas, was considering a joint bid for the company with WPP and Hellman.

Mr Bolloré owns nearly 25 per cent of Aegis. Because Mr Bolloré paid as much as 143.75p a share, any bid involving him would have to be at least at that price, which would value Aegis at about £1.62bn. If Mr Bolloré acted in concert with WPP and Hellman, he would have faced the same deadline of noon on Friday.

Under the three-way deal that was being discussed, WPP would have paid £350m for Synovate, the market-research arm of Aegis. Mr Bolloré would have held the biggest stake in the rest of the company - including Carat, the powerhouse advertising-buying operation - followed by Hellman and then WPP.

Such a bid would have been difficult to structure, and Mr Bolloré’s camp was understood to have asked Aegis last week for another two months to craft an offer. Aegis officials were understood to have rejected the suggestion.

Another difficulty for Mr Bolloré involves the current turmoil at Havas. Jacques Herail, chief financial officer, and Alain Cayzac, chief communications officer, were both understood to be negotiating the terms under which they will leave Havas.

Both men had served under Alain de Pouzilhac, who was forced out as chairman and chief executive of Havas by Mr Bolloré earlier this year. Havas has said it will spell out its strategy by the end of the year.

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