PARIS 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 Numericable.
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 April 25.
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 favor, 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.
(Reporting by Leila Abboud, Gwenaelle Barzic, and James Regan; Editing by Blaise Robinson and Mark Potter)