Aegis Group, the globe's largest independent media planning and buying agency, formally announced Wednesday it had received bid overtures valuing the group at over £1.5 billion ($2.7bn; €2.2bn) or £1.40 per share. The bidder's identity was not revealed.

But later in the day the New York Times named Paris-headquartered Publicis Groupe as the masked predator, citing as its source 'people close to the companies'.

Global media networks Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia are Publicis-owned, and addition of Aegis to its portfolio would confer the world heavyweight media championship on the French group.

However, neither Aegis nor Publicis were prepared to confirm that the latter is the mystery bidder and some onlookers believe the story, which originally surfaced in French business daily Les Echos, may be nothing more than a ploy to persuade other and more generous buyers to enter the ring.

News of the bid propelled Aegis' share price from £1.205 to £1.4575 on the London Stock Exchange - a rise of 21%, later slipping to close the day at £1.41.

Aegis has been seen as a likely takeover target since the recently self-appointed new chairman of Havas, Vincent Bolloré revealed he had acquired a 6% stake in the London-headquartered company [WAMN: 05-Aug-05].

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff