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Numericable steps back into the frame to buy SFR

Then it looked as though Bouygues was in lead position to re-shuffle the French telecoms market. It had offered Vivendi, SFR’s owner, 11.3 billion and a 43 per cent stake in the new company, which would be spun off, making it the biggest French operator with a 42 per cent share of the French market, well ahead of Orange with its 35 per cent share.

But today Vivendi has entered exclusive talks with cable operator, Numericable. If nothing is agreed in 3 weeks then another bid could be accepted, but the idea that Bouygues could pop back into the fray is viewed as unlikely. Vivendi thinks the Numericable bid is the one most likely to jump the regulatory hurdles. The deal would see €11.75 billion going to Vivendi and it gaining a 32 per cent share of the new entity.

This change in tack by Vivendi - which originally wanted out of the mobile market - is not what the French government had in mind. It wants to see a deal that actually reduces the number of operators (the thinking being that this will save jobs across all the operators) and will increase the profitability of the sector. The French government thinks meddling in the market is not only OK but practically a duty, and the minister responsible, Arnaud Montebourg, sounded just a little miffed by this late development, saying that he foresaw “a number of problems” with it.

More to come on this one I think.

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