Bolloré’s Stake in Aegis Nears 20%

NEW YORK Havas chairman and corporate raider Vincent Bolloré has confirmed raising his stake in Aegis Group to nearly 17.4 percent.

According to U.K. laws, shareholders who own at least 30 percent of a company must make a takeover bid.

Once Bolloré’s Aegis stake passed the 10 percent threshold, he became a thorn in the side of any potential rival suitor, assuming that an acquisition is not his ultimate goal, according to analysts familiar with U.K. takeover laws [Adweek Online, Oct. 3].

Under those statutes, the potential buyer of a public company has to accumulate more than 90 percent of the latter’s shares, otherwise the remaining shareholders can insist that the company remain listed on the British stock exchanges. At his current level of investment, Bolloré also has the right to demand shareholder meetings and submit proposals for consideration. At present, he would appear to be in a position to extract concessions from other potential Aegis buyers, analysts have said.

Bolloré upped his stake on Friday, the same day Aegis confirmed that WPP Group is considering a bid for the company in collaboration with an unnamed private investment firm, which sources identified as San Francisco-based Hellman & Friedman.

The confirmation came amid Publicis Groupe’s statement that it had decided, at least for now, to bow out of the running for Aegis, the London-based company that owns the Carat media agency network and the Synovate market research business.

Publicis did leave open the possibility of bidding in the future under certain circumstances.

Both companies late Friday posted the following statement, attributed to Publicis, on their Web sites: “Publicis Groupe announces that it has decided that it is not in the best interests of its shareholders to make an offer for Aegis Group.”

It qualified the statement with the following: “Publicis reserves the right to set aside the statement above if either of the following events occurs: A third party announces a firm intention to make an offer for Aegis; or the agreement or recommendation of the Board of Aegis.”

The statement about WPP on Aegis’ Web site said, “Following recent press comment, WPP Group confirms that it is in discussions with a private equity partner to explore the feasibility of a cash offer for Aegis Group. WPP’s primary interest is in Synovate, the market research business of Aegis. There can be no assurance any offer will be made.”

Both Aegis and Publicis had previously confirmed exploratory talks about a potential acquisition. Aegis has said it held conversations with other suitors as well, but had not identified any others until today.

Sources two weeks ago said WPP and Hellman would team up to make a bid for Aegis [Adweek Online, Oct. 5].

This story udpates an item posted on Oct. 14 with the news that Bolloré has increased his stake.