Aegis Sets Deadline For WPP, Bollore Ups Stake

Hours after WPP Group Chairman-CEO Martin Sorrell told analysts that WPP and private equity firm Hellman & Friedman are still "mulling" a bid to take over Aegis Group, the Aegis board issued an advisory saying Europe's Takeover Panel has agreed to impose a deadline of 12:00 noon (GMT) on Nov. 25 for WPP and H&F to "announce a firm intention to make an offer for Aegis." Citing "rule 2.5" of the panel's code, Aegis stated that if an offer is not made by that date, WPP and H&F must "announce that they do not intend to make an offer for Aegis."

The announcement follows a report by Reuters that WPP and H&F have been trying to extract more information from Aegis about its operations, especially the "volume discounts" obtained by Aegis media buying unit Carat in its negotiations with media on behalf of its clients. It's unclear whether the implication is that Carat has been deriving revenues based on those discounts, but it was such practices that originally got its French precursor agency Carat Espace in trouble with the French government before it was restructured as part of U.K.-based Aegis.



In its statement, the Aegis board said that should WPP and H&F fail to make a bid by the deadline, they would be "bound" for six months by certain restrictions under the Takeover Panel's code.

The new deadline comes as French financier and Havas Chairman Vincent Bollore continues amassing shares of Aegis stock, bringing his stake to 20.8 percent of the company. Bollore has indicated he would like to see Aegis remain independent, and does not have plans to force its merger with Havas, as some have speculated he might.

Meanwhile, Havas' Media Planning Group unit won an important media account from Aegis' Vizeum unit. French food giant Danone Friday said MPG would handle its entire French media buying effective in 2006. The account had been split between Vizeum and Omnicom's OMD unit.

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