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Le Monde Extends Investment Deadline After Sarkozy Weighs in

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Le Monde weighs offers from five investors
The offices of Le Monde newspaper stand in Paris. Photographer: Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg

June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, extended a deadline for investors after French President Nicolas Sarkozy weighed in on the bids.

The 65-year-old Paris daily, which is in talks with potential partners for capital to stave off a financial crunch, said the deadline for firm offers was extended to June 21. One of the two groups making a “pre-offer” said it is still looking for partners. The other group was opposed by Sarkozy, according to a labor group at the newspaper.

Sarkozy last week met with the afternoon daily’s chief executive officer, Eric Fottorino, to discuss the newspaper’s future, Le Monde spokeswoman Anne Hartenstein said yesterday. The president’s involvement in the newspaper company has prompted charges of interference in the media.

“It’s an old tradition in France,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at the Paris Political Studies Institute. “The establishment has always meddled in the media. The press is part of politics in France. There’s less of a tradition of the independent fifth estate.”

Fottorino told colleagues that Sarkozy expressed opposition to the bid from a group that includes Lazard Ltd. banker Matthieu Pigasse, Iliad SA founder Xavier Niel and Yves Saint Laurent Group partner Pierre Berge, said Adrien de Tricornot, vice president of the Society of Editors labor group.

The group “condemns the political interference,” he said.

Berge backed Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal in the 2007 election that delivered the presidency to Sarkozy and his conservative Union for a Popular Movement. Franck Louvrier, a spokesman for Sarkozy, declined to comment.

Other Bid

Le Monde typically stakes out the political center, making its support important to politicians. The other main newspapers in Paris are the left-leaning Liberation and conservative Le Figaro, owned by Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault SA.

The other “pre-offer” is from weekly news magazine Nouvel Observateur Chief Executive Officer Claude Perdriel and partners that Le Monde didn’t identify in its statement on such bids on June 11. Nouvel Obs has a circulation of about 502,000, according to circulation statistics office OJD.

The parent company of Nouvel Observateur, Groupe SFA PAR, sent a letter on June 10 to Le Monde saying that the suitors are looking for partners for an investment of 80 million euros ($98 million) to 100 million euros, SFA Chief Financial Officer Eric Bayle said yesterday in a phone interview. Discussions are being held with multiple partners, he said, declining to name them.

France Telecom

France Telecom SA is in talks with Nouvel Observateur’s Perdriel that may lead to a joint investment in Le Monde, a person familiar with the situation said yesterday.

France Telecom, the country’s largest phone company, may make a “minor” investment, said the person, who declined to be identified because the talks are private. The discussions could alternatively result in France Telecom entering a partnership without a direct investment, depending on the timetable of Le Monde’s recapitalization effort, the person said.

Hartenstein declined to comment on whether the partners included France Telecom. Le Monde yesterday said in an e-mailed statement that the chosen suitor will have to pay 10 million euros to enter exclusive negotiations.

Other possible bidders identified by the newspaper, including Swiss publisher Ringier AG, had expressed concern about the speed of Le Monde’s timetable for new partners.

Shrinking Circulation

Le Monde, founded while the German army was being expelled from France in 1944 and supported by General Charles de Gaulle, is struggling to maintain revenue as advertising migrates to the Internet. French newspapers, like their U.S. counterparts, are cutting costs and seeking new ways of making money as readership shrinks.

The daily, based in Paris’s 13th arrondissement, cut 130 jobs after a 2008 cost-cutting exercise that aimed to save 15 million euros ($18.4 million) annually.

Circulation declined last year at all three major Paris dailies. Readership fell by 9.5 percent to 111,000 at Liberation, 4.1 percent to 288,000 at Le Monde and 1.8 percent to 314,000 at Le Figaro, according to OJD.

Le Monde SA is about 60 percent owned by Le Monde & Partenaires Associes, 17.3 percent by Lagardere SCA, 15 percent by Prisa, 2.9 percent by Stampa SAS, 1.8 percent by Nouvel Observateur and 2.7 percent by other smaller holders. Le Monde & Partenaires Associes in turn is 52 percent owned by internal shareholders and 48 percent by a small group of partner companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Campbell in London at mcampbell39@bloomberg.net; Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net.

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