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IPG Entertains Bids for NFO

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NEW YORK At least four suitors have emerged as bidders for Interpublic Group's NFO WorldGroup, sources said. They include WPP Group, United Business Media and Aegis Group, sources said.

In addition, Hellman Friedman, the private equity investors who took a stake in Young & Rubicam prior to that company's IPO, is said to have looked at NFO's books. IPG's current focus is said to be on finding a strategic buyer for the market research firm, rather than an investor like Hellman Friedman. Taylor Nelson Sofres PLC is also interested in NFO but is not considered a serious contender.

NFO's management had expressed interest in a buyback, but could not arrange financing, sources said. IPG is hoping for bids of up to $580 million, sources said.

Including the assumption of NFO's debt, IPG paid more than $600 million when it bought the company in 2000. IPG put NFO on the block last month, as part of an ongoing move to jettison non-core assets. The holding company also is looking to sell the motor-sports division of Octagon sports marketing. In both cases, investment firm Goldman Sachs is working on behalf of IPG.

The proceeds from any sale could favorably impact the terms of IPG's continuing negotiations with its lenders, which recently were extended to Feb. 10. IPG declined comments on NFO, now part of the holding company's Advanced Marketing Services division.