Vincent Bolloré, the French financier, is racing against time to carve up the British media-buying firm Aegis.
M. Bolloré, Sir Martin Sorrell's advertising giant WPP and the American private equity group Hellman & Friedman are looking into a £1.6bn joint offer for Aegis. But it is understood that the Frenchman is struggling to finalise his plans before the Friday deadline set by the Takeover Panel for the other suitors to "put up or shut up".
M. Bolloré's representatives sounded out Aegis' bankers last week about a possible two-month extension to that deadline to put together an offer, but were given short shrift.
WPP and Hellman signalled their interest in Aegis three months ago after the French advertising group Publicis walked away from a 140p-a-share approach. M. Bolloré - chairman and a major shareholder of rival French ad group Havas - was determined to keep the British company out of Publicis' hands. He began building a stake in Aegis in the summer and is now the biggest shareholder, with just shy of 25 per cent of the company. M. Bolloré will be pivotal to any successful move for overall control.
Despite the impending deadline, Aegis shares were chased 7p higher to 132p as investors bet a bid would be tabled. M. Bolloré has paid as much as 143.75p for Aegis shares. Any bid involving him must now be pitched at least at that level, and in cash.
Aegis has not ruled out an extension to the timetable, but only if a concrete offer is put forward. A spokesman said: "This uncertainty can't continue. The Takeover Panel rules are there for this very good reason."Reuse content