NEW YORK: Three firms have bid for New York-based agency holding company Grey Global: the WPP Group, Havas, and private equity firm Hellman & Friedman (H&F).The deadline for bids was last Wednesday. Abbot Jones, managing director of the analyst firm AdMedia Partners, called the sale "a toss up" between WPP and H&F. He noted that WPP would likely retain Grey as a brand within the company, while H&F would seek to restructure Grey financially in order to maximize profits. Jones speculated that the winning bid will involve "a combination of the price and the fit with the founder's objective." None of the companies involved in the prospective deal returned calls for comment. WPP offered almost $1.3 billion (close to Grey's market capitalization) and Hellman & Friedman around $900 a share, according to The Wall Street Journal. Havas issued a short press release Wednesday afternoon saying that its board had approved submitting a bid. Some analysts were questioning the wisdom of the move. Bob Willott, editor of the Marketing Services Financial Intelligence newsletter, called the $1.3 billion price tag "extravagant," saying that Grey would have to triple its current profitability to justify the figure. Willott cautioned that the stability of Grey could falter, and its client and employee relations could be damaged if the sale hit any snags. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell was willing to retain Grey founder Ed Meyer after the sale, according to The Times of London, leading some industry analysts to pick it as the favorite to acquire the firm. Havas' bid was mired in mystery. Media Daily News cited industry rumors that the French firm's bid might run as high as $1.45 billion, well ahead of its competitors. At the same time, The Wall Street Journal quoted ING media analyst Bruno Hareng as saying that it is unlikely Havas will acquire Grey.
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