Between the Lines: Havas wary of Bollore raid

With Vincent Bollore's hot breath constantly on his collar, Alain de Pouzilhac, the Havas chairman, is desperate for any good news that will cause the corporate raider to back off.

Bollore's modus operandi is to seek out undervalued companies, shake up the management and sell on his stake for a profit. At the moment it is Havas that's getting the Bollore treatment.

At first, Havas, attempting to recover from a brutal recession, welcomed Bollore's interest. But as his stake has grown larger and his intentions more contradictory, de Pouzilhac has grown increasingly uncomfortable about the perceived threat to the group's independence. All of which explains his upbeat interpretation of Havas's fourth-quarter figures, which reveal 2 per cent organic growth for 2004 (page 4). "This is the clearest demonstration that our strategy is the right one and is bearing fruit," he says.

Maybe. However, the fruit is a long way from ripening and still vulnerable to a heavy frost. For one thing, the margins are unlikely to bear comparison with the group's major rivals. For another, the effects of the group's Intel and Volkswagen losses have yet to kick in.

The problem for Havas may be that its heavily hyped integrated offering is less appealing than those of communications groups, such as WPP, with more power to deliver integrated solutions globally. Meanwhile, Bollore waits menacingly in the wings.

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