updated 1/16/2006 11:40:12 AM ET 2006-01-16T16:40:12

Media research and publishing company VNU NV, the owner of the U.S. Nielsen television ratings, said Monday it has received a buyout offer worth up to $8.87 billion (7.3 billion euros) from a group of private equity firms.

The bid was for between $34 and $34.60 (28 and 28.50 euros) per share, VNU said in a statement. The company did not say what factors the final price would depend upon.

The consortium of bidders includes AlpInvest Partners, The Blackstone Group, The Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Permira and Thomas H. Lee Partners.

VNU shares opened higher but reversed course in afternoon trading and were down 1 percent at $34 (28 euros) on the Euronext.

The company, which said last month it had been approached by several interested parties, said the bid is non-binding, but that it is “not continuing discussions with any other party.”

“This proposal was made by this private equity consortium after several weeks of diligence and access to VNU management,” it said. “There can be no assurance that these discussions will result in any specific transaction and, if so, at what price and with what conditions. VNU expects to be able to provide further information within three to four weeks.”

The bid follows VNU’s failed $6.8 billion bid to buy IMS Health Inc., which fell apart in November amid a shareholder rebellion that led to the resignation of VNU’s chief executive, Rob van der Bergh. His departure date is still uncertain.

Van den Berg said in a leaked internal VNU memo that he hoped for a “prompt resolution” and that management were “proceeding with discussions” with the potential buyers.

VNU posted sales of nearly $4.6 billion (3.8 billion euros) and net earnings of $198 million (163 million euros) in 2004.

With about 255 million outstanding shares, the high end of the bid values VNU at nearly 7.3 billion euros. Market analysts told Dow Jones Newswires it was low and estimated the company to be worth between $35 and $39 (29 and 32 euros) per share. Rabo Securities analyst Hans Slob said he doubts VNU shareholders Fidelity, Templeton and Knight Vinke will accept the offer.

VNU provides companies with marketing information such as Nielsen’s ratings, and has more than half of its sales in the United States. It also runs trade fairs and as a publisher is best known for Billboard and Hollywood Reporter magazines.

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