A high-echelon mole within either Havas or WPP Group has informed the New York Times - "on condition of anonymity" - that the companies' respective bosses, Vincent Bolloré and Sir Martin Sorrell are engaged in intensive têtes à têtes concerning a joint bid for Aegis Group.

Also involved in the discussions is US private equity group Hellman & Friedman.

Although none of the companies concerned were prepared to comment on the report, there is little doubt that Bolloré holds the trump card - a near 25% stake in the London-headquartered independent media and research group[WAMN: 08-Nov-05].

WPP's canny knight and the equally shrewd French investor, who also chairs Havas, already enjoy a cosy relationship "Yes, we regularly have discussions together. Our two groups have had a relationship for two years," Sorrel told French newspaper Le Monde earlier this year [WAMN: 25-Apr-05].

According to the latest report, WPP aims to avoid anticompetitive intervention by taking only a minority interest in Aegis's media planning and buying units, while H&F is likely to buy an unspecified stake in what is left of the group. It is also probable that WPP will ingest Aegis research unit Synovate.

But the poker players are running out of time. Under UK takeover rules, WPP and H&F must either make a firm bid for Aegis by November 25 or withdraw from the fray for six months. However, it is the right of the target company to request an extension of that deadline.

According to the mole, Bolloré is leaning on the Aegis board to ask for more time, thereby enabling him to participate in a consortium bid.

London bookies are said to be offering heavy odds against Aegis remaining a single entity.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff