* Bouygues trying to muscle back into SFR bid battle
* Numericable in exclusive talks over SFR until Friday
* Bouygues says both its offers valid until April 25
* Analysts expect Numericable to increase its bid further
(Adds details, background, share prices)
PARIS, April 2 French conglomerate Bouygues
will let Vivendi choose between its two
offers for telecoms business SFR, as it tries to muscle back
into a 15-billion-euro ($21 billion) battle with favored bidder
Bouygues said on Wednesday that both its March 12 offer and
a second one on March 20, which included a higher cash portion
and lower stake in the resulting company, would be valid until
Vivendi's board on March 14 chose Numericable as the
preferred bidder for SFR, giving the French cable group three
weeks of exclusive talks.
Vivendi is expected to hold a board meeting on Friday to
discuss the sale of SFR, France's second-biggest telecom
operator, which brought in more than half of the group's annual
sales and operating profit last year. It is seeking to exit
telecoms to focus more on its media businesses.
Since March 14, Vivendi has been working with Altice
, the parent company of Numericable, on its bid for
SFR. Numericable is offering 11.75 billion euros in cash -
financed through borrowing and a capital increase - and a 32
percent stake in the resulting company.
It remains to be seen whether Vivendi's board on Friday will
stick with its original choice of Numericable.
The cable group prevailed initially because its bid came out
ahead on the criteria set by Vivendi's board - the total value
offered for SFR, the speed with which it would allow Vivendi to
eventually exit the resulting business, the amount of cash
offered, a lower risk of a lengthy review by competition
regulators, and impact on jobs.
Bouygues has refused to bow out though, because it sees
finding a partner for its telecom unit, which has been hit hard
by a two-year old price war, as key to ensuring its future.
Bouygues Telecom is ranked third in France's mobile market
with about 17 percent market share, behind Orange and
SFR, but ahead of low-cost challenger Iliad.
Bouygues last week increased the cash portion of its bid by
1.85 billion euros to 13.15 billion euros and offered Vivendi a
21.5 percent stake in the resulting entity, instead of 43
percent under its previous proposal.
It also disclosed on Wednesday for the first time that the
offer leaving Vivendi with a 43 percent stake in the resulting
company, which would be floated in mid-2015, included a
guarantee to protect the seller if the value of the stake fell
below 3.3 billion euros.
Bouygues promised to cover the difference up to the point
the stake fell below 2.3 billion euros in value, at which point
the burden would be on Vivendi.
Bouygues said Vivendi would "be able to choose the option it
considers the most satisfactory".
Vivendi declined to comment.
A spokesman for Altice said it continued to negotiate with
Vivendi under its exclusivity through Friday.
Altice is likely to modify its offer before Friday so as to
tip the balance definitively in its favour, analysts have said.
Altice, backed by billionaire Patrick Drahi, is weighing
whether to raise the cash portion of its bid and lower the
equity stake, said a person familiar with the matter on Tuesday.
Bouygues shares were up 0.5 percent to 30.61 euros around
mid-session, while Vivendi was down 0.2 percent to 20.11 euros.
Numericable was down 0.2 percent to 28.77 euros and Altice 0.6
percent lower at 31.91 euros.
($1 = 0.7249 Euros)
(Reporting by Leila Abboud, Gwenaelle Barzic, and James Regan;
Editing by Blaise Robinson and Mark Potter)