PARIS Vivendi (VIV.PA) will examine the latest Bouygues (BOUY.PA) offer for its SFR telecoms subsidiary "with all the necessary rigour" while respecting a three-week exclusivity period for negotiations with a rival bidder, newspaper le Figaro said on Thursday.
Vivendi's chairman, Jean-Rene Fourtou, sent a letter dated March 24 to Martin Bouygues, chief executive of the construction to telecoms conglomerate, laying out this position, the newspaper said, citing a copy of the letter.
"The management of Vivendi - out of concern for the group's interests as well as of its shareholders and employees - will examine the offer with all the necessary rigour, according to the criteria set out by the board, while strictly applying our exclusivity pledge," the paper quoted Fourtou as saying.
Fourtou was responding to a March 22 letter from Martin Bouygues urging the Vivendi chairman to give fair consideration of Bouygues' modified bid for SFR after Vivendi's board had already chosen Numericable NUME.PA as its preferred bidder.
Bouygues's latest offer for SFR, which was submitted six days after Vivendi chose to start exclusive talks with Numericable, raised the cash portion of its offer by 1.85 billion euros ($2.55 billion) to 13.15 billion while cutting the stake Vivendi would hold in a combined SFR-Bouygues Telecom to 21.5 percent from 46 percent.
Cable group Numericable's bid includes 11.75 billion euros in cash and a 32 percent equity stake in a new merged company to be formed through the acquisition. Vivendi is in exclusive talks with Numericable until April 4.
A sub-committee of Vivendi's board, which earlier evaluated the original two offers, is meeting again today to discuss Bouygues' latest bid, according to Le Monde newspaper.
Vivendi's entire board will meet on April 4 to make a decision on the sale.
The takeover fight for SFR, France's second-biggest mobile operator behind Orange (ORAN.PA), will reshape the market, which has been in the throes of a price war since the arrival of low-cost upstart Iliad's (ILD.PA) Free Mobile two years ago.
Vivendi wants to exit telecoms - despite SFR bringing in nearly half of its revenue last year - to focus more on its media businesses, including pay-television and music.
A Vivendi spokesman declined to comment. ($1 = 0.7254 Euros)
(Reporting by Leila Abboud; Editing by Greg Mahlich and David Goodman)