France "not for or against" Mittal's bid
France's FM watered down previous hostility towards Mittal's $24 bn offer.Updated: Feb 06, 2006 16:56 IST
France's finance minister on Monday further watered down previous hostility towards Mittal Steel's unsolicited $24 billion offer for Luxembourg-based Arcelor, which has big operations in France.
The world-largest steel maker is set to register documents with regulators for its offer to buy its biggest rival, while chairman and founder Lakshmi Mittal will meet leading Belgian politicians later in the day.
Arcelor Chief Executive Guy Dolle will meet the Belgian Prime Minister in the morning.
"We are neither for nor against it (Mittal's bid). We are very vigilant," Finance Minister Thierry Breton told BFM radio.
"I am legitimately concerned and mobilised," he said, adding France had not changed its position at all over the past week.
But France, where more than 26,000 jobs could be affected by a takeover, has loudly expressed concerns about Mittal's offer, and Breton has called the bid "hostile".
He has complained about the protocol of the sudden offer and called it badly prepared.
Arcelor is the product of a merger four years ago between three steel companies -- Spain's Aceralia, France's Usinor and Luxembourg's Arbed. Luxembourg is the largest single shareholder with a stake of 5.6 per cent.
Arcelor executives started to push a growth strategy to win investor confidence, including a big role for the China market.
Mittal Steel's exposure to the booming Chinese market is a key plank of the Rotterdam-based company's argument to win over the support of Arcelor shareholders in the bid.
Arcelor will double production to 100 million tonnes of steel within five years, and deals in China will be a key path to growth, a senior official at the company told The Observer newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
The paper said Michel Wurth, vice president of the company's management board, outlined the growth strategy which he and CEO Dolle hope will lead investors to reject the bid by Mittal.
Arcelor did not ask its ally Nippon Steel Corp for help when the heads of the two firms met in Paris last week, a Nippon Steel source said on Monday.
Nippon Steel President Akio Mimura met Dolle last week, raising speculation the Japanese company could emerge as a white knight for Arcelor to fend off the bid.
"Our understanding is that Dolle did not make any specific proposals on the issue," the Nippon Steel source said.
He declined to comment on the details of the meeting.