Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 October 2020

Engie given more time to weigh up $4bn offer for Suez stake

Suez has opposed Veolia's proposal and backed an alternative approach from private equity firm Ardian SAS

A sign above Veolia's headquarters in Paris. The company has bid $4bn to buy a stake in Suez from Engie. Engie has been given longer to consider the offer and has received interest from rival bidders. Bloomberg
A sign above Veolia's headquarters in Paris. The company has bid $4bn to buy a stake in Suez from Engie. Engie has been given longer to consider the offer and has received interest from rival bidders. Bloomberg

Engie pushed back the deadline for accepting Veolia's €3.4 billion ($4bn) bid for most of its stake in Suez, though there was little sign the delay would ease the tensions between the French corporate giants.

The extension to October 5 gives Veolia extra time to formalise talks with Suez, potentially allowing for a friendlier acquisition. But Suez has shown scant inclination to engage in discussions, saying on Thursday it backed an alternative approach from private equity firm Ardian SAS – one that Engie has already brushed aside.

The wrangling over the sale of the 29.9 per cent stake – and eventual planned takeover – has continued for a month, with Veolia pushing to create a waste and water utility with more than €40bn in sales, while Suez has done all it can to thwart the proposal. The French government, which holds 24 per cent of Engie, has appealed for calm as it seeks to avoid an acrimonious acquisition battle between two of the nation’s largest companies.

Veolia on Wednesday raised its bid by 16 per cent and offered employment guarantees in an effort to persuade Engie to sell the Suez shares. Engie’s board said the new price was in line with expectations, but it was still unwilling to go through with the deal.

“There is room for discussion,” Engie chairman Jean-Pierre Clamadieu told reporters late on Wednesday. “We wish that both parties take the opportunity of this period to talk so that conditions of a friendly offer be met.”

Suez has fought hard to rebuff the approach. Last week it sought to frustrate Veolia’s plans by creating a so-called poison pill, making antitrust issues more complicated for its suitor. The utility has also attempted to assemble a competing offer for Engie’s stake.

Ardian said on Thursday it had sent Engie a letter of intent to buy the Suez shares, and planned to put together a group of public and private investors – mostly French – to submit a friendly takeover offer. While Suez’s board supported the move, Mr Clamadieu said that Engie had received only a vague expression of interest, which lacked a price, details of the bidders or their funding. The time for considering rival offers has passed, he said.

Veolia said on Wednesday it would make a tender offer for the remainder of Suez’s shares if Engie accepted its bid, but only on a friendly basis. The company proposed a period of six months for negotiations between the two sides to reach an agreement. If talks fail after that time, Veolia would present its offer direct to all shareholders, chief executive Antoine Frerot said.

Updated: October 1, 2020 09:36 PM

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