LONDON (CNNfn) - Germany's Mannesmann confirmed Tuesday that it was in talks with France's Vivendi and other potential partners in a move viewed as a last-ditch attempt to fend off the hostile $144 billion takeover bid from Vodafone AirTouch.|
However, Mannesmann and Vivendi played down reports that the German firm is seeking to buy Vivendi's 44 percent stake in Cégétel, France's second-largest mobile-phone operator.
A report in the Financial Times said Vivendi, whose interests range from media to environmental services, would take a stake in Mannesmann in return for the Cégétel stake.
Analysts said such a move could form a white-knight defense for Mannesmann. "It's negative for Vodafone," Juergen Gries, a trader at
Merck Finck & Co. in Munich, told Reuters. "It means Vodafone would have to dig deeper into its pockets or else take on a company with more debts."
However, Vivendi said it was not looking to sell its stake in the cellular operator. It owns 9 percent of Cégétel directly and 70 percent of a holding company that controls a half share in Cégétel, with the remaining 30 percent of the holding company owned by SBC Communications (SBC).
Mannesmann shares fell 1 percent while Vivendi (PEX) stock was little changed and Vodafone (VOD) gained 0.6 percent.
Mannesmann already owns 15 percent of Cégétel while British Telecommunications (BT-A) has a 26 percent stake.
The German company said it was in regular talks with Vivendi and other unidentified business partners.
Weekend press reports had put Vivendi forward as a possible white knight to counter Vodafone's all-stock offer. Mannesmann chief executive Klaus Esser has earlier said he was not seeking a white knight and would base his defense against Vodafone on strategy and price.
The company has already sold a 10.2 percent stake to Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa in return for the conglomerate's stake in Orange, Britain's third-largest cellular operator. Hutchison has pledged its shares to Mannesmann's defense.
Mannesmann released its final defense document last Friday, including a commitment to consider selling shares in its Internet businesses.
Vodafone's all-share offer expires on Feb. 7.
-- from staff and wire reports