Billionaire investor Pinault may bid for ownership of French construction group

The share price of French construction group Vinci shot up 14% last week amid speculation that it could be a takeover target for a group led by billionaire investor Francois Pinault.

Shares in Vinci, which owns UK contractor Norwest Holst, rose to *119.7 (£81.3) last week, their highest price in the past year. The rise, up from *105 (£71.3) at the start of the week, came amid speculation that Pinault may bid for the company.

Pinault is rumoured to have increased his stake in Vinci to 8.1%, although when Building went to press this had not been confirmed. Artemis, Pinault’s family holding, purchased a 5.1% stake last month, making it the biggest shareholder after Vinci’s staff.

Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate, this week denied speculation that he would team with Pinault for a bid.

Analysts this week said private investors would have to pay a high price to take over Vinci, and speculated that the firm might attempt a defensive merger with another European contractor such as Eiffage to stave off a bid.

One analyst said: “Vinci has demonstrated that it is a good custodian of shareholder value. It is possible it will go in for a merger.” He added that Norwest Holst could become a takeover target if Vinci is sold.

Xavier Hulliard, Vinci’s chairman, has said any pressure from investors to sell Vinci’s public works and concessions branches would be resisted. Earlier this month it sold its M&E division to Rosser and Russell, the UK arm of US contractor Emcor.

The Vinci Group reported an 11% rise in turnover to *26bn (£17bn) in 2006.