LONDON: The US-owned UK cable monopoly (frequently mislabelled even by such august seekers after accuracy as the Financial Times as "Sir Richard Branson's" Virgin Media) is said to be returning flirtatious overtures from a number of private equity Romeos.

Despite the the Pavlovian tendency of the press to brand all enterprises in which the perma-grinned Branson holds a minority stake as his personal property, 89% of Delaware-registered Virgin Media is held by other, mainly American, investors.

Given the company's present woes and its outflanking by NewsCorp's BSkyB, there is little doubt that Branson would welcome a private equity takeover before the value of his present holding vanishes into thin air.

The leading suitor is global private equity firm Carlyle Group, which has made a preliminary offer of $33-$35 per share - equivalent to approximately £5.6 billion (€4.14bn; £2.79bn).

Virgin's board has hired investment bank Goldman Sachs to evaluate the offers and preside over any ensuing auction.

Branson, meantime, is uncharacteristically silent, although "sources close" to him say he would like to remain a shareholder in Virgin Media if and when it is taken private.

This implies he would retain part of his holding in VM, protected from stock market fluctuations by the shield of private ownership, whilst cashing-in the rest of his declining shares before the predicted world slump in stock prices.

Data sourced from BBC Online (UK) and Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff