Three Aegis suitors face deadline hurdle

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French investor Vincent Bolloré, WPP of the UK and the US private equity firm of Hellman & Friedman were racing against time on Sunday to come up with a bid for Aegis, the UK advertising buying company.

The three parties were understood to be talking about making an offer but it would be tricky. UK regulators have imposed a deadline of November 25 for WPP and Hellman to bid for Aegis and, if Mr Bolloré joined them, he would probably have to abide by the same timetable.

Mr Bolloré's representatives were understood to have talked to bankers representing Aegis last week about getting two months more to put together an offer without mentioning other parties but were rebuffed.

Robert Lerwill, Aegis chief executive, on Sunday declined to rule out granting an extension, but made clear that Aegis would do so only if it received “a concrete, viable and plausible bid”.

Mr Bolloré, chairman of the French marketing-services group Havas, in effect, put Aegis into play in August, buying a 6 per cent stake that he has since increased to nearly 25 per cent. Because Mr Bolloré has paid as much as 143.75p a share, any bid involving him would have to be at least at that level and in cash.

“Since the beginning of August, any of these parties who would like to make a formal offer have had that time to consider what they might want to do,” Mr Lerwill said. “But the board has had nothing to consider from any of these parties WPP, Hellman & Friedman, Mr Bolloré or any permutation of them.”

Mr Lerwill said he and his board were “aware of our responsibility to consider anything that we are asked to review”. But he added: “We are happy to carry on with our successful strategy of creating shareholder value by remaining independent.”

Under the three-way bid, Aegis would be taken private and carved up. WPP would buy its Synovate market-research arm for about £350m. Mr Bolloré would hold the biggest stake in what was left, followed by Hellman, and then WPP.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, signalled the necessity of bringing Mr Bolloré on board in an Aegis bid when he told an investment conference in Spain last Friday that the French investor had taken control of the company “in a negative sense”.

That means WPP and Hellman would be unlikely to pursue a bid should Mr Bolloré not get more time to put together a deal. But the Aegis board could face shareholder pressure to think about an offer at the 143.75p level. Aegis shares closed at 125p Friday and were worth less than 100p at the start of August.

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