Permira and Centaurus, the British buy-out firm and hedge fund, have approached Atos Origin, the French IT services group, with a potential €4bn ($5.3bn) takeover, two people familiar with the situation said.

Atos confirmed Thursday it had received an approach after its shares surged, but did not say from whom. The group also said there was no formal offer and it was “not engaged in any financial operation with respect to its share capital”. Yet its shares, suspended before the statement, rose further after the denial, closing up 25.2 per cent at €49.50.

Permira, Britain’s biggest private equity group, and Centaurus, an activist hedge fund and Atos’s biggest shareholder, are understood to have asked for access to financial information to carry out due diligence before mounting a formal bid. It is unclear if Atos will agree, but it is thought to be considering the request.

People close to the situation said the Permira-led approach was priced at €58 a share, a 46 per cent premium to Atos’s previous close – a level some analysts said was hard to justify. Centaurus and Permira declined to comment on the approach, first reported by Dow Jones.

It is the second time Atos has damped rumours of a private equity approach in recent months, after denying in October it was in talks with Blackstone.

Bernard Bourigeaud, Atos chief executive, has made it clear it is open to a private equity deal, following two sales warnings last year, but he is thought to feel any bid must fully factor in gains expected from a restructuring programme.

One analyst said he found it difficult to justify a valuation above €50, although the prospect of spinning off its joint venture managing Euronext’s IT system, or Atos Worldline, its financial outsourcing arm, could attract private equity.

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