WPP keeps option of future Aegis bid

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The Independent Online

Sir Martin Sorrell's advertising giant WPP confirmed yesterday it has no immediate plans to bid for the media buyer Aegis, but left the door open to do so in the future.

Aegis shares, driven higher since WPP and the US private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman signalled their interest in a joint offer three months ago, eased 3.25p to 117.75p.

The Takeover Panel, which polices British mergers and acquisitions, told the pair to play their hand by noon yesterday or walk away for at least six months.

The decision to put aside Aegis is the third potential deal involving Hellman to fold in a week. The US buyout specialist was part of the consortium that failed to land the City brokerage Collins Stewart Tullett and was involved in the failed bid for the British energy group Drax.

Hellman and WPP sounded out Aegis's board about an offer after the French advertising group Publicis dropped its 140p-a-share approach in September.

Robert Lerwill, the chief executive of Aegis, said: "Today's announcement was not a surprise given WPP and Hellman & Friedman had not made a credible proposal to the board."

WPP can re-enter the fray if another bidder steps forward. That is most likely to be the French financier Vincent Bolloré, who chairs the French advertising group Havas and is Aegis's biggest shareholder. M. Bolloré is widely expected to increase stake, to impose changes to the Aegis board.