The head of Taylor Nelson Sofres’ thwarted suitor, GfK of Germany, believes that WPP Group is likely to succeed in its hostile bid for the UK market research group.
But Klaus Wübbenhorst, chief executive, denied that GfK would be vulnerable to its enlarged new competitor, citing a strong set of first-half results as proof.
“It is quite unlikely that WPP will fail to get the necessary control of TNS,” Professor Wübbenhorst told the FT. He said he was disappointed and relieved that the bidding process had ended, leaving GfK free to pursue acquisitions in emerging markets.
TNS and GfK’s plans for a “merger of equals” were disrupted by a hostile bid for TNS by WPP, the world’s second-largest marketing group. GfK said it intended to counter-bid but was unable to secure financing.
Prof Wübbenhorst said that discussions with potential backers faltered over the conditions of financing, in areas such as aligning interests with existing shareholders, corporate governance and how long partners were prepared to invest.
“This was the problem,” he said. “Not that any of the people we talked to were not convinced that GfK’s top management were able to handle the transaction.”
He denied reports that GfK Verein, a non-profit organisation and GfK’s majority shareholder, prevented discussions with private equity groups. But he declined to confirm that Apax and Herz, the wealthy German family, were among the “more than one but significantly below 10” companies he spoke to.
GfK spent €8.9m on the acquisition costs related to TNS in the first half, advised by Rothschild and UBS.
“While this provides short-term financial relief, longer term it leaves GfK alone in a consolidating sector, in which size becomes [also according to GfK] ever more important,” said George Remshagen, an analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort.
Prof Wübbenhorst said: “We don’t see that we desperately have to do another major transaction just because TNS and WPP are getting together.” But he forecast more acquisitions in the sector, adding that GfK “would rather be consolidator than consolidatee”. It will look to Central and Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, particularly in the market research sectors of retail, technology, automotive, healthcare and financial services.
GfK reported organic revenue growth of 11.4 per cent year on year in its second quarter. Adjusted for costs related to the TNS merger and internal restructuring, earnings before interest and tax increased 11.3 per cent to €60.9m ($89.4m).
Its shares gained nearly 6 per cent on Wednesday after it withdrew its bid but closed flat on Thursday at €24.53.
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