Altice makes con­tro­ver­sial 10 bil.-euro bid for Bouygues

The China Post - - BUSINESS -

Franco-Is­raeli media mag­nate Pa­trick Drahi has of­fered over 10 bil­lion eu­ros (US$11.3 bil­lion) to buy out ri­val French mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor Bouygues Tele­com in a move de­scribed as “un­de­sir­able” by the gov­ern­ment.

Drahi al­ready owns France’s sec­ond-big­gest tele­coms op­er­a­tor Numer­i­ca­ble-SFR as part of his Altice group.

Ac­quir­ing the tele­com di­vi­sion of Bouygues con­struc­tion and media con­glom­er­ate would give him a dom­i­nant po­si­tion in the sec­tor.

Bouygues’s board will ex­am­ine the of­fer “at the start of the week,” sources with knowl­edge of the ne­go­ti­a­tions told AFP.

Another source spec­i­fied the board would dis­cuss the is­sue on Tues­day.

The story was first re­ported by Le Jour­nal du Dimanche (JDD) news­pa­per, which cited un­named sources say­ing: “The ne­go­ti­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing this week­end with Martin Bouygues, the group’s CEO, de­mand­ing an im­proved of­fer (by Drahi), to 11 bil­lion eu­ros.”

But the gov­ern­ment is not keen to see less com­pe­ti­tion in the mo­bile phone sec­tor, where a busy play­ing field has kept prices low for con­sumers.

“Now is not the time for op­por­tunis­tic tieups which may be of in­ter­est to some peo­ple but which are not in the public in­ter­est,” Econ­omy Min­is­ter Em­manuel Macron told AFP.

“I say and I re­peat that con­sol­i­da­tion is cur­rently un­de­sir­able for the sec­tor,” he said.

“Jobs, in­vest­ment and bet­ter cus­tomer ser­vice are the pri­or­i­ties,” Macron said, adding that re­cent cases in Europe had shown tele­coms merg­ers to have a “neg­a­tive” im­pact.

Ac­cord­ing to JDD, the deal may not be a straight takeover of Bouygues Tele­com but more a dis­man­tling of its as­sets.

The pa­per re­ported that another tele­coms com­pany, bil­lion­aire Xavier Niel’s Free, would get some of Bouygues’s mo­bile fre­quency, an­ten­nas and shops, while some of its em­ploy­ees may end up at mar­ket leader Or­ange.

There was no of­fi­cial com­ment from any of the big op­er­a­tors when con­tacted by AFP on Sun­day.

“It is the most se­ri­ous of­fer” made for Bouygues Tele­com in re­cent years, said one anony­mous source, adding that the board could still re­ject it.

Drahi, whose media in­ter­ests in­clude a ma­jor­ity stake in the French daily Lib­er­a­tion and L’Ex­press news weekly, as well as own­ing the Is­raeli TV sta­tion i24 News, has been on a tele­coms buy­ing spree over the past year.

In March 2014, Altice won a bid­ding war with Bouygues for SFR, France’s sec­ond largest mo­bile op­er­a­tor, which it then merged with its Numer­i­ca­ble ca­ble op­er­a­tion.

Altice also snapped up the Por­tugese as­sets of Brazil’s Oi-Por­tu­gal Tele­com.

AP

In this March 18 file photo, Altice group’s Chair­man Pa­trick Drahi poses suavely for pho­tog­ra­phers at the Sco­pus Awards of the French Friends of the He­brew Univer­sity, in Paris.

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