Insults fly in the battle of the billboards

More steps up the war of words in its effort to rebuff a bid from its French arch-rival. Christine Harper reports

THE FRENCH advertiser Decaux's plan to buy its arch enemy More Group - already threatened by regulatory issues - has been further complicated by its bitter rivalry with the UK company in the $17bn (pounds 10.2bn) outdoor advertising market.

Ever since Decaux launched its pounds 475m cash bid for More on 30 March, a regular stream of discouraging remarks have been directed against the French company by both More's chief executive, Roger Parry, and Clear Channel Communications of the US, whose pounds 446m offer had been accepted by Mr Parry before Decaux unveiled its bid.

Mr Parry insists his comments - which range from disparaging Decaux's competitive practices in France to wondering whether its chairman, Jean- Francois Decaux, is "two baguettes short of a picnic" - merely reflect his efforts to maintain More's competitive edge. Investors say they are confident that he is doing the right thing, because even though Decaux's bid offers more money to shareholders, it remains likely that it will meet opposition from the Office of Fair Trading.

"It's well known that More group and Decaux are quite fierce competitors, and it's appropriate for him to continue to compete with Decaux until a bid succeeds," said Crispin Finn, a fund manager at Capel-Cure Myers Capital Management. "As a shareholder I want him to stand up for the More Group."

Still, the anti-Decaux rhetoric has not helped More's shares. Hopes that Clear Channel would top Decaux's pounds 11.10-a-share bid drove More's share price to pounds 11.90 earlier this month. Since then, doubts have grown about Decaux's chances of winning regulatory approval, and shares are down to pounds 11.03.

"I think Parry is playing quite a careful game," said Simon Lapthorne, analyst at Granville Davies. "If Decaux's bid gets referred, as personally I think it probably should, then presumably that would allow the Americans to get it at their current price."

He questioned, however, whether it makes sense for Mr Parry to continue his frequent negative remarks about Decaux in the press: "As things stand at the moment, the Decaux bid has more in it for shareholders."

Clear Channel, a San Antonio-based broadcaster, has already won approval from the OFT because its purchase of More would represent its first step into the European outdoor advertising market. The company said on 17 April that it had 11.37 per cent of More's shares and reiterated: "The Decaux offer raises significantly greater public interest issues than those raised by Clear Channel's offer."

Decaux's offer, meanwhile, hinges on whether the OFT is concerned that Decaux and More are the only two companies that provide bus shelters and other outdoor conveniences to local government authorities in the UK.

Decaux has released a survey of 119 local governments in which it found only 10 were opposed to Decaux buying More, with the rest either neutral or supportive of the bid. But the UK's Local Government Association, which has not conducted a formal survey, said a small but significant number of its members have voiced opposition to the Decaux bid, while none have indicated support.

"We've heard from significant large authorities who hold multi-million pound contracts and they have concerns," said Andy Elmer, the LGA's head of planning, transport and the environment.

He said the association will try to assess more of its 500 members in time to give the OFT a better overall view of the concerns posed by a Decaux-More link-up.

The OFT has said it will make a recommendation to the Department of Trade and Industry by 22 May.

Meanwhile, More and Decaux continue their sparring, much of it through the press.

In the latest twist, the Daily Telegraph quoted Mr Parry saying a takeover would give Australian Provincial Newspapers the right to buy out More's stake in their Australian joint venture, Adshel Street Furniture, and that Decaux was "despondent" at this news. The article points out that Clear Channel already has a radio joint venture with APN.

"I keep quoting- but nobody ever runs it - that francs are as good as dollars," Mr Parry said in a recent interview.

"We are waiting for the OFT to complete due process, and whilst that is going on Decaux remains my principal worldwide competitor."

He admits, however, that long-held animosity and cultural differences make him innately suspicious of Decaux.

"They are a very secretive, private family company and we are a widely held public company ... it's a fundamentally different culture," he said. "It is difficult for me, because my staff regard Decaux as the enemy, as the competitor."

Granville Davies' Mr Lapthorne said the entrepreneurial Mr Parry would never stand for working under the thumb of the Decaux family, even though the family has said it plans to go public within a few years.

"The suggestion that he'd ever work for them is laughable," Mr Lapthorne said.

Asked whether he would feel comfortable working for Decaux, Mr Parry responded: "I'll tell you if it happens - it's different working for a single shareholder than it is working for a group of shareholders.

"My natural career is much more to do with running public companies than it is to do with the subsidiaries of another company."

Copyright: IOS and Bloomberg

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam