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Minister weighs in to battle for SFR

Arnaud Montebourg says he believes Vivendi prefers cable operator Numericable’s bid for telecoms giant SFR

FRENCH industry minister Arnaud Montebourg has said that he believes cable operator Numericable will win the battle to buy telecoms giant SFR.

He told French radio that he understood no deal had been finalised and no bid had been accepted but he thought Vivendi, the parent company of SFR, favoured the cable operator’s bid over that of Bouygues Telecom.

His comments come the morning after Bouygues upped the cash portion of its bid for SFR by €800m in return for a slightly larger stake in the business. It has been reported that Numericable had also sweetened its offer.

To reduce the risk of their bid being blocked by French competition authorities, Bouygues had previously said it would be prepared to sell its mobile network and some of its 15,000 mobile antennas to internet and mobile phones rival Free.

Xavier Niel, the boss of Iliad which owns Free, told Les Echos that he would need to recruit 1,000 more staff if Bouygues’ bid for SFR was accepted.

But, if the Numericable bid is accepted, Mr Niel also said that: “Free will emerge stronger, in terms of channels, access to sites and new opportunities - including cable.”

Both Mr Montebourg and Mr Niel have raised concerns about the possible SFR-Numericable deal, including Numericable’s debt, and the prospects for French jobs.

Mr Montebourg said: “What I understand is that it poses a certain number of problems, mainly because Numericable is a small enterprise compared to SFR.”

He had earlier said publicly that he would prefer the Bouygues bid because it would calm what he called "destructive competition" in France.

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