Vivendi asks for SFR bids by Wednesday night - source

PARIS, March 3 Mon Mar 3, 2014 11:19am EST

PARIS, March 3 (Reuters) - Vivendi has asked bidders for its telecom unit SFR to submit preliminary offers by Wednesday night, said one person close to the situation, putting pressure on Bouygues, a latecomer to the auction whose bid faces antitrust issues.

Le Monde newspaper first reported the deadline on Monday.

Vivendi expects to receive bids for France's second-biggest mobile operator from local cable firm Numericable and Bouygues, owner of the third-largest mobile operator, said a second person close to the deal.

It does not expect to get a bid from Iliad despite reports the fourth-place mobile player is also interested, said the two sources.

Asked about the Wednesday deadline, a Vivendi spokesman said only: "Vivendi will take its time to study all the possibilities for the future of SFR."

The offers are seen including details on price, financing, governance, synergies, potential liquidity windows for Vivendi, as well as an estimate of the deal's impact on jobs in France, a key issue for the government, said the second person.

Bouygues, the construction-to-media conglomerate, faces a tougher battle to get its hands on SFR because merging the number two and three mobile operators would attract tough regulatory scrutiny - a handicap Numericable would not face since it is not in mobile. Numericable has also been in talks on and off with Vivendi since 2012 on a deal, whereas Bouygues has jumped into action only in the past few weeks.

Vivendi is not abandoning preparations underway since last year to split off SFR in an independent company. Citigroup and Societe Generale are working on the de-merger, which was Vivendi's initial plan for SFR as it tries to cut its exposure to capital-intensive telecoms and focus on its media arms.

Once Vivendi has the bids in hand, the board is expected to decide sometime in March whether to move ahead in exclusive talks with one of the bidders or to press ahead with the split.

"Vivendi is running a triple-track process," said the second person, referring to the split option and the parallel talks underway with two bidders.

The group confirmed last Monday it had been approached for a deal by Altice, the parent company of French cable operator Numericable.

A spokesman for Altice, which owns 40 percent of Numericable, also declined to comment. Spokespeople for Bouygues and Iliad did not immediately return requests for comment.

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