Bollore admits interest in merging Havas and Aegis

LONDON - Havas chairman and main shareholder Vincent Bollore has given the strongest indication yet that he is seeking to merge the firm with British media buying company Aegis, in which he has a 25% share.

Speaking at a news conference six months after he took over the chairmanship of Havas, Bollore said "the game was open" for a link up between Havas and Aegis, adding that there was a "certain logic" in merging the firm's media space buying operations.

According to Reuters, Bollore told the conference that: "We have the largest stake in Aegis. We have not invested for nothing, it's a financial stake. The game is open and we are open to reconsidering our position."

However he ruled out raising his stake in Aegis to more than 30%, the trigger point when he must make a full offer, and said he had no intention of gaining a seat on Aegis's board.

At the conference he pledged his future to Havas, saying: "I'm not there by coincidence. I'm not passing through. I'm there for a long time."

He also revealed that the firm, which is struggling to compete with rivals including Publicis and Omnicom Group, is expecting to see a dip in sales and its operating margin.

It forecasts yearly sales of 2005 at €1.41bn (£950m), down from €1.494bn in 2004, and sales for December are set to drop by 10%.

In terms of its operating margin, this is set to be around 10%, compared with 11.5% last year.

Speculation of a merger between Aegis and Havas dates back to August, when Bollore began his stock buying in spree in Aegis, which rose to 25.05% late last month.

Publicis, as well as WPP Group, in collaboration with Hellman & Friedman, were previously in the understood to be in running to buy Aegis but have since ruled themselves out.

Last month, investor David Herro, who is most famous for leading a shareholder revolt against the Saatchi brothers, told the Financial Times that he believes Bollore is the best hope for Aegis.

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