Has Interpublic Joined the Bidding for True North?

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A revision in paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission has raised speculation that Interpublic Group of Cos. has joined the bidding for True North Communications.

The company had filed a registration statement Feb. 27 regarding the stock it would use to pay for the $265 million acquisition of Deutsch, New York, but on March 1 it offered a revised version that added language stating that "Interpublic is currently engaged in a number of preliminary discussions that may result in one or more substantial acquisitions" that may "give rise to bidding scenarios that require quick responses by Interpublic."

True North had been reported to be in talks with France's Havas Advertising, but insiders now say those talks appear to have cooled off. In a March 2 conference call with analysts, Havas chief executive Alain de Poulzhiac refused to comment on the reports. True North officials refused to comment, and Interpubic executives were not available.

Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Lauren Fine estimated a purchase of True North would cost Interpublic $40 to $45 per share. With 50.2 million shares outstanding, that would translate in a payday of $2 billion to $2.3 billion. True North would bring talent -- especially in auto accounts, despite its loss of the DaimlerChrysler account -- and ethnic marketing businesses to Interpublic, according to Ms. Fine's analysis. She also added that Interpublic has shown interest in Grey Global Group, but that acquisition would have to resolve a conflict between Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co.

Afternoon trading on March 2 of Interpublic stock was down 2.68% on the New York Stock Exchange, losing $0.99 at $36, while True North was up 2.16%, gaining $0.79 cents to $37.28.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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