Levy says it is better for all if Havas stays independent

LONDON - Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, has said that it is better if Havas stays independent in the wake of speculation that the two French groups could merge.

Levy, speaking on French radio over the weekend, said that it was unlikely that Publicis would act as a white knight to rescue Havas if rival WPP Group made a takeover bid.

He said: "For us, the best scenario would be the status quo. That is, Havas remains independent with a strong key shareholder. It is the best solution for us. I want to stress this so that there is absolutely no ambiguity."

The future of Havas is uncertain in the wake of its failed takeover bid for Grey Global Group, which was bought by WPP Group last month.

French businessman Vincent Bollore, widely described as a "corporate raider", has been buying up shares in the company, and now owns around 15% of the company and is set to win two seats on its board.

It has been reported that Levy has been talking to Bollore about buying his stake in Havas, with the wider issue of keeping Havas in French hands at stake.

French pride has been pricked after losing three takeover battles in the advertising sector to British-owned WPP. Havas lost out in 2001 in the battle to take control of Tempus, and last year Publicis Groupe lost the fight for Cordiant Communications.

While the ideal solution in terms of national pride would be a merger between Havas and Publicis, potential client conflicts are understood to mean that the move is unlikely.

However, Levy did not rule it out completely. In the interview with Radio Classique, he said: "Some think Publicis would be the perfect white knight and that Publicis would come to the rescue. The answer is no, not necessarily. Maybe."

Shares in Havas were trading up by 2.15%, this morning at €4.27.

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