Numericable investor says bid will protect SFR jobs

PARIS, March 4 Tue Mar 4, 2014 2:09am EST

PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) - A successful takeover of French mobile operator SFR by cable company Numericable will protect jobs and lead to more hiring, Numericable's largest shareholder said on Tuesday.

The looming spin-off of Vivendi unit SFR - with preliminary bids due by Wednesday night - is seen as a new opportunity to consolidate the French telecoms market after two years of brutal competition triggered by low-cost player Iliad.

But it is also fraught with potential regulatory and political hurdles, since French regulators frown on mergers that would lead to higher prices and France's Socialist government is battling double-digit unemployment rates.

"(I pledge) to not lay off staff and to keep SFR's 8,500 jobs and Numericable's 2,400 jobs," Patrick Drahi, who owns 40 percent of Numericable, told French newspaper Le Figaro. "(I will) even hire sales staff for the enterprise market."

A spokesman for Drahi's holding company Altice confirmed the comments. Vivendi declined to comment.

A Numericable-SFR deal would also give priority to contracts with French firms such as Alcatel-Lucent, Technicolor and Sagemcom, Drahi added, in a clear nod to French political concerns over the health of domestic companies.

Vivendi expects to receive bids for France's second-biggest mobile operator from Numericable but also from rival Bouygues , according to a person close to the deal. However, a Bouygues deal would be a tougher battle to win because merging two mobile operators would bring closer regulatory scrutiny.

Le Figaro reported that Numericable had sealed a 15 billion-euro credit line for its bid and that the company would also plan a 3 billion-euro capital increase. (Reporting by Lionel Laurent and; Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier; Editing by Mark Heinrich)