Engie Pushes Back Deadline for Sale of Suez Stake to Veolia

Engie SA pushed back the deadline for accepting Veolia Environnement SA’s 3.4 billion-euro ($4 billion) bid for most of its stake in Suez SA, though there were limited signs the delay would ease the tensions between the French corporate giants.

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

Suez Chairman Philippe Varin will talk with Veolia to get clarification on its project, which has “real flaws,” he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse Thursday. Ardian’s plan “will rapidly progress and reach maturity,” though getting a firm commitment in five days “would be a very ambitious target,” he told AFP.

The wrangling over the sale of the 29.9% stake -- and eventual planned takeover -- has continued for a month. Veolia is pushing to create a waste and water utility with more than 40 billion euros in sales, while Suez has done all it can to thwart the proposal. The French government, which holds 24% 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% 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 Approach

Ardian said 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, 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 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 Officer Antoine Frerot said.

Suez shares closed 2.2% higher at 16.15 euros in Paris Thursday, less than the 18 euros a share offered by Veolia. Veolia added 0.6%, while Engie gained less than 0.1%.

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