Dentsu Bids High For Aegis, More M&A Likely
Is Havas next? Or Interpublic Group? In the wake of Dentsu’s offer for London-based Aegis Group, industry chatter focused on which firms might be next in the ongoing round of consolidation in
the marketing services sector.
The biggest surprise of the Dentsu offer for Aegis was that it didn’t leak before the parties were prepared to announce it. Aegis had effectively been in play since 2005, when French entreprenuer Vincent Bollore started acquiring shares, rapidly becoming the agency holding company’s largest single shareholder.
Bollore, who is chairman and controlling shareholder of Havas, had for years hoped to create a strategic alliance between the two holding companies, with his roughly one-third interest in each firm. Aegis resisted, insisting that the French business magnate pay full price for Aegis -- something he wasn’t willing or couldn’t afford to do.
After years of trying, Bollore shifted gears, essentially repositioning his Aegis stake as an “investment” and not a “strategic” holding. Now, he’s cashing in. He supports the current deal and stands to make a windfall on it -- Dentsu is paying about double what Bollore paid when he first started buying up shares. He has already sold 15% of his Aegis shares to Dentsu and has agreed to sell the remaining stake for a total capital gain of $550 million.
Industry consolidation, which heated up last month with WPP’s deal for independent digital shop AKQA and talks between Omnicom and LBi, will continue, according to analysts.
“We continue to expect that Havas, Interpublic and Publicis in particular remain highly likely to become involved in some kind of ‘transformative’ M&A activity at some point in the next several years as well,” wrote Brian Wieser, senior research analyst in a note following Thursday’s unveiling of the Dentsu-Aegis deal.
Given that each deal in a merger cycle -- there have been two big ones already this time around and a possible third pending -- tends to add to the feeding frenzy, Wieser believes more near-term deals are likely.
Potential acquirers, he speculated, include Korean holding company Cheil, reportedly in talks to buy U.S. agency McKinney and publisher Meredith, which has invested in a number of ad shops in recent years. Hearst, IBM and Accenture could also be looking to buy. Other potential targets include Sapient and Toronto-based holding company MDC Partners, which itself has been on a buying spree, making about two dozen acquisitions over the past two-plus years.
Aegis shareholders have about a month to ponder the offer before a shareholder vote on the proposal, which is scheduled for Aug. 16. But with both Bollore and management firmly behind the deal, and given the 48% premium that Dentsu has agreed to pay, most analysts see the deal being approved by the required 75% of Aegis shareholders.
The deal also has to pass anti-trust scrutiny from regulators, but assuming it does, Aegis and Dentsu expect the
acquisition to be complete in the fourth quarter of 2012.
That premium is also likely to make it more costly for other acquirers to buy shops as target agencies become more scarce, noted Nomura Securities, in a note it sent out after the Dentsu offer was confirmed. “The significant premium paid may help to lift [the value] the other agencies somewhat,” the firm stated.
Nomura added the UK’s ITV and Germany’s Sky Deutschland to the list of media companies that could attract suitors, noting that Bollore now has more resources to further invest in France’s media company Vivendi. He currently owns a 2.8% stake in the firm.
Aegis Group CEO Jerry Buhlmann noted in comments Thursday morning that the Dentsu-Aegis combination would add
scale to Dentsu’s global expansion efforts. Currently, 84% of Dentsu’s business is based in Japan and is weighted heavily toward creative, while Aegis is media-centric.
The deal gives Aegis greater resources to continue its strategy of bulking up on digital and fast-growing markets around the world. Buhlmann made a commitment to remain at the helm of Aegis, at least through 2013, with his management team remaining in place “for the foreseeable future.”