The small print in Aegis’ decision to sell its market research arm Synovate to Ipsos for £525m is easily overlooked. Vincent Bolloré, principal Aegis shareholder, will take a windfall commission of £53m.
‘Commission’? Whatever the business logic on both sides of selling Synovate to Ipsos, no deal was possible without Bolloré’s say-so, as 26.5% Aegis shareholder. We now know his price, to be extracted in the guise of a 15.5p special dividend payable to all shareholders once the deal has gone through in September.
Bolloré’s opportunistic windfall fits well with his recent self-styled image as merely a “financial” stakeholder in the media buying giant, who is theoretically ready to sell out if the price is right. But don’t be deceived. Aegis, as a pure-play media planner/buyer, is now a lot more vulnerable to a break-up bid. And Bolloré, as chairman of and 33% stakeholder in Havas, has greater strategic reason to promote one than any other potential player.
Bid speculation about Publicis Groupe and WPP, which has fueled Aegis’ share-price recently, looks wide of the mark. A senior source at WPP has dismissed a break-up bid as “pure BS”, while Maurice Lévy implicitly ruled out the idea of Publicis being a prime mover in his H1 earnings call last week (although, note his cryptic point about a “game-changing opportunity in one of our operations” in the ‘M&A’ section of this interview).
A break-up bid initiated by either party would lead to severe regulatory problems. Havas, on the other hand, has every reason to snap up a global media buying operation if the price is right. The perceived problem is that Bolloré does not have the financial resources to act on his own.
That’s not to say he could not, or would not, collaborate in a carve-up. After he has picked up his windfall, of course.