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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IFA Based

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road