EXCLUSIVE-EMC plans to raise Data Domain bid-sources

* EMC to raise Data Domain bid to compete against NetApp

* EMC has room to go to $34-$35 a share - sources

* EMC likely to act just before Data Domain investor vote

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By Jim Finkle and Anupreeta Das

BOSTON/NEW YORK, June 12 (Reuters) - EMC Corp EMC.N intends to raise its bid for Data Domain Inc DDUP.O to thwart rival suitor NetApp Inc NTAP.O, and could offer as much as $35 per share, sources familiar with the matter said.

The top maker of data storage equipment, EMC, has already offered $30 a share, or $1.8 billion cash, for Data Domain but the specialty storage technology company chose NetApp after it raised its $25-a-share offer to match EMC’s price.

EMC’s strategy, according to one of the sources who has knowledge of its thinking, is to either win Data Domain, or at least drive the price high enough to make the acquisition very expensive for NetApp and weaken the smaller rival’s finances.

Analysts say EMC has the stronger balance sheet and can easily outbid NetApp, but the wild card is whether antitrust regulators would scupper a deal because of EMC’s leading position in the storage equipment market.

EMC has about $7.1 billion in cash, including $4 billion in the United States, and could go as high as $34 to $35 per share, said another source. All the sources requested anonymity because no final decisions have been made.

“EMC is in the win-win box and NetApp is in the lose-lose box,” said the person with knowledge of EMC’s thinking. “EMC can pay more than NetApp can in a reasonable range. If NetApp wants to pay at an unreasonable range, that’s good for EMC.”

Spokespersons for all three companies declined comment. Investors already are expecting offers to go up in the bidding war, which is rare in the tech sector. Shares of Santa Clara, California-based Data Domain have been trading around $33 since EMC stepped in with its counteroffer on June 2, and rose as much as 3.3 percent to $34.35 on Friday afternoon.

NetApp shares were down 1.8 percent at $19.56 and EMC was down 0.6 percent at $13.00.

Both bidders make hardware and software that let companies store, manage and back up their data. They want Data Domain’s technology because it eliminates duplicate data during back-up processes, thereby saving companies costly storage space.

Data Domain’s board last week advised shareholders to accept NetApp’s cash-and-stock bid, saying it offers better value. NetApp has said the stock component of its offer will allow Data Domain shareholders to benefit from the growth of the combined company.

The board of Data Domain is expected to make a formal recommendation on EMC’s bid on June 16. A date for a shareholder vote on the NetApp deal has not yet been set.

EMC Chief Executive Joseph Tucci will likely hold off on raising the bid until shortly before Data Domain shareholders meet to vote on NetApp’s offer, because doing so will force the board to call off that gathering to evaluate the new proposal, the person familiar with EMC’s thinking said.

(Reporting by Anupreeta Das and Jim Finkle; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Phil Berlowitz)

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