President Obama checks for rain before golf outing just days after causing uproar by having uniformed soldier hold an umbrella over him

With no strapping U.S. Marine in sight to protect him from the rain, President Obama looked skyward to check for drops as he headed to the golf course Saturday.

The president, dressed in khakis, a low-key blue jacket and sandals, was depicted by White House pool photographers emerging from the South Portico of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, glancing up and stretching out his hand to check if it was raining. 

The images come just days after the commander-in-chief was roundly criticized for breaking protocol by having a two Marines hold umbrellas over him and a foreign dignitary during a press conference in the Rose Garden in violation of a soldiers' uniform dress code.

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Rain check: President Barack Obama checks to see if it's raining alongside U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius as they depart the South Portico of the White House

Soggy outing: The president, Secretary Sibelius (right), Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and White House assistant chef Sam Kass headed for a round of golf at Andrews Air force Base

Obama has taken two Cabinet secretaries out for a round of golf - his first this year - at Andrews Air Force Base.

The White House said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined the president Saturday on his getaway.

Reporters saw Sebelius climb into the president’s SUV. White House assistant chef and nutrition policy adviser Sam Kass completed the foursome.

A steady rain was falling by the time the golfers arrived at the base about a half hour later.

The president's soggy golf outing caps off a rough week fraught with controversies, which Obama and his administration have been struggling to get a handle on.

On Monday, the Associated Press revealed the Justice Department had obtained phone records of 20 of its reporters as part of an investigation into a leak.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service was forced to apologize for targeting conservative tea party groups for heightened scrutiny.

All throughout, critics on the right continued lambasting the Obama administration for allegedly mishandling the Benghazi attacks last September.

Amid this toxic brew of scandals, Obama unwittingly sparked another controversy Thursday by asking a pair of Marines to protect him and Turkish Prime minister Recep Erdogan from the rain during a joint press conference at the White House. 

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Thomas McInerney, a former United States Air Force Lieutenant General, said that the president showed a ‘lack of respect’ by making the soldier shelter him from a shower, which made him ‘look like a butler’

He also said that the President has plenty of aides so did not understand why one of them could not have held the umbrella.

Hoping for a break in the storm: Obama faced a barrage of questions over three simultaneous scandals engulfing his administration

Broken Regulations: US Marines hold umbrellas during light rain for US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The President caused a stir when he summoned over two marines to keep him dry at a press conference in the Rose Garden.

The marines held an umbrella over the President and the Turkish Prime Minister individually as Obama made jokes about the weather.

However, for some the move was not a laughing matter particularly as it is a breach of protocol for marines to hold umbrellas while in uniform.

Lt Gen McInerney told MailOnline that he found it particularly insulting how the President at one point his his hand under the marine’s arm ‘like he wasn’t doing a good job or something’.

He said: ‘The President has stood in the rain before without an umbrella and a marine would generally stand there without holding an umbrella.'

‘He isn’t some kind of butler or something.

‘It makes the other guy (the other marine) look like a butler too.'

‘I think it’s a lack of respect for the marine, that’s what I think.'

‘I don’t understand why one of his aides could not have held the umbrella. The marine is a warrior but the aides are not.’

Lt Gen McInerney, 76, served in Vietnam and fought with NATO and was commander of the 11th Air Force in Alaska before retiring.

He said: ‘If I was his (the marine’s) commander...I’d say good job, you did what he wanted you to do but you can’t, really he has to keep his comments to himself because if you say anything you’re going to get in trouble.'

‘Any time a marine has said something...one general who spoke out, he got fired, he got canned from his job.’

Lt Gen McInerney also lashed out at the President for not doing enough to support soldiers when they return home from combat.'

He said: ‘The President talks a good line but he doesn’t follow a good line. These guys are coming home and they’re not getting what they are supposed to get.'

‘The guy’s (Obama) got to get real and he’s got to start doing stuff the right way and answering questions in the right manner, not changing subject in the middle of the interview.’

According to Marine Corps regulations, not even the President of the United States can request a Marine to carry an umbrella without the express permission of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corp Manual, which is the bible for all soldiers serving, specifically states that a soldier's uniform dress code does not allow the carrying of an umbrella and 'no officer or official shall issue instructions which conflict with, alter, or amend any provision without the approval of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.'

Indeed, male Marines are informed never to carry an umbrella from the earliest phases of training.

Regulation MCO P1020.34F of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations chapter 3, rules out any use or carrying of an umbrella while a Marine is in uniform.

However, female Marines 'may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered.'

Insensitive? Many have questioned the President's actions

Rule Breaker: President Barack Obama, center, watches a Marine remove the umbrella after it stopped raining during his joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Many commentators found the use of the marines to be particularly insensitive, given the President was answering questions on Benghazi.

The lack of marines protecting Ambassador Chris Stevens at the Libyan consulate and the failure to deploy marines to protect him amid the outbreak of violence has come under fire ever since last year's attack on September 11.

Usually a marine guard would be in force at an overseas diplomatic compound but in Benghazi the government opted to use a private Libyan security team.

Stevens had made repeated appeals for improved security at the Libyan base but to no avail.

Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty were part of a CIA security team stationed a mile away who heard gunshots and intervened to try and help Stevens. They were also killed in an attack on their compound.

When violence broke out there were also delays sending in marines to assist.

A rapid response team were twice told to stand down amid the chaos while reports at the time said the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team was delayed because the state department ordered them to deplane and change into civilian clothing.

Answering questions on Benghazi, President Obama said the government was ' continuing to review our security at high-threat diplomatic posts' in light of the attack. 

At the press conference originally intended to be a victory lap for the United States' relationship with Turkey, Obama stood alongside Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and fielded questions which quickly shifted to the trio of scandals that are engulfing his administration.

Critical: Thomas McInerney, a former United States Air Force Lieutenant General, said that the President showed a ‘lack of respect’

Admission: Obama admitted that the U.S. needs to 'learn the lessons of Benghazi' but he called it an 'incident' rather than a terror attack

He also dodged questions about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, and said 'I offer no apologies' for the Department of Justice's secret seizure of reporter's phone records in search of a classified intelligence leak.

He has been under growing pressure over these issues and Benghazi in recent weeks.

It has emerged that his State Department political appointees intervened in the aftermath of the 2012 terror attack, in a process that resulted in a misleading set of talking points which ignored terrorism in favor of a more muted explanation, in the midst of a re-election campaign.

Addressing the Benghazi fallout pre-emptively before Erdogan spoke, Obama said that 'at my direction, we've been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board.'

He spoke of various measures he was recommending, to 'learn the lessons of Benghazi.' But he referred to the murders of four Americans there as an 'incident,' not a terror attack.

He said: 'That's why, at my direction, we've been taking a series of steps that were recommended by the review board after the incident.  We're continuing to review our security at high-threat diplomatic posts, including the size and nature of our presence; improving training for those headed to dangerous posts; increasing intelligence and warning capabilities.' 

'And I’ve directed the Defense Department to ensure that our military can respond lightning quick in times of crisis.'

And his remarks focused on 'properly funding' the State Department and Pentagon-run security at diplomatic posts, shifting the burden to Congress to 'provide resources and new authorities so that we can implement all the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board which issued a report last month'.

He said: 'We’re going to need Congress’s help in terms of increasing the number of our Marine Corps Guard who protect our embassies.

'We're not going to be able to do this alone,' Obama said. 'We need Congress.'

The review board is under fire for failing to interview high-level Obama administration figures, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Interviewing Clinton, Republicans on Capitol Hill have said, would have provided insights into who was accountable for lapses in security that left the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya vulnerable to attack.

The Tea Party Patriots and other conservative groups provided a powerful rallying force during the 2010 midterm elections. It was around the same time that the Obama administration's IRS began targeting such groups that applied for tax-exempt nonprofit status

But despite Obama's plea for more funding, money was not an issue in the months before the Benghazi attack when consular officials in Libya asked the State Department for more security forces.

Those requests were repeatedly denied, and neither Hillary Clinton nor other State Department officials have raised a lack of funding as the reason more special forces were not on the scene.

On the night of the Benghazi attack, the State Department refused to authorize an existing special forces team in the Libyan capital city of Tripoli to board a military C-130 plane headed to Benghazi, despite their readiness to intervene.

The Obama administration said later that the decision was made because the forces would not have arrived at the consulate, which was under attack, in time to make a difference.

The State Department has been silent on the question of how it knew how long the armed, military-style assault from Islamist terror groups would last.

Obama addressed the need to for ''increasing intelligence and warning capabilities' at 'diplomatic posts around the world,' and asked Congress for money to 'increase the Marine Corps contingents' at State Department facilities.

On the IRS scandal, Obama said he knew nothing of what was going on.

'My main concern is fixing a problem,' Obama said.

'It is just simply unacceptable for there to be even a hint of partisanship' in the IRS.

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EU mergers and takeovers (May 14)

The following are mergers under review by the European Commission and a brief guide to the EU merger process:

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APPROVALS AND WITHDRAWALS

-- French insurer Sogecap, which is part of French bank Societe Generale, and Cardif Assurance Vie, which is a subsidiary of French bank BNP Paribas, to jointly acquire a real estate developer (approved May 14)

NEW LISTINGS

-- U.S. group General Electric Co to buy the aviation business of Italian plane components maker Avio from private equity fund Cinven and Italian defence group Finmeccanica (notified May 13/deadline June 18)

 

-- U.S. media group Time Warner to acquire sole control of TV operator Central European Media Enterprises in which it currently holds a stake (notified May 8/deadline June 17)

-- Private equity firm CVC to acquire sole control of German energy services company ista GmbH (notified May 8/deadline June 17/simplified)

-- Private equity investor Nordic Capital to buy Unicorn which owns marine transport services company Unifeeder A/S (notified May 2/deadline June 11/simplified)

EXTENSIONS AND OTHER CHANGES

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FIRST-STAGE REVIEWS BY DEADLINE

MAY 15

-- Warner Music Group, which is owned by Access Industries Inc, to acquire Parlophone Label Group from Vivendi's Universal Music Group (notified April 5/deadline May 15)

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MAY 16

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-- Czech group Agrofert to buy Italian pasta maker Barilla's German bakery chain Lieken AG (notified April 8/deadline May 16/simplified)

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MAY 17

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-- Australian warehouse operator Goodman Group to acquire a stake in a container terminal owned by ports operator DP World Limited, which is part of Dubai World (notified April 9/deadline May 17/simplified)

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MAY 27

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-- Private equity firms KKR and Bregal Fund to jointly invest in private school operator Cognita (notified April 16/deadline May 27/simplified)

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-- Tokia Rubber, which is a subsidiary of Sumitomo Electric Industries, to buy car parts maker Anvis Group GmbH from H.I.G. Capital (notified April 16/deadline May 27)

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MAY 28

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-- Food processor McCain Foods Group to buy potato products supplier Lutosa Business (notified April 3/deadline extended to May 28 from May 13 after McCain offered commitments)

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MAY 29

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-- Swedish industrial holding company Lindengruppen and Swedish asset management company Foundation Asset Management Sweden to jointly acquire Swedish metals powder manufacturer Hoganas (notified April 18/deadline May 29/simplified)

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-- Otsuka Pharmaceutical, which is a subsidiary of Otsuka Holdings Co, and Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co to acquire stakes in Claris Otsuka Ltd which is owned by Indian drugmaker Claris Lifesciences Ltd (notified April 18/deadline May 29/simplified)

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MAY 31

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-- Austrian mall developer Spar and the property arm of German insurer Allianz to set up a property joint venture (notified April 22/deadline May 31/simplified)

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-- L. Possehl Co & mbH to buy metal supplier Cookson Precious Metals Business (notified April 22/deadline May 31/simplified)

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-- Canada Life, which is a subsidiary of Canadian life insurer Great-West Lifeco, to acquire Irish Life (notified April 22/deadline May 31)

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JUNE 4

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-- Brazilian investment fund 3G Capital, and Berkshire Hathaway to acquire joint control of U.S. ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co (notified April 24/deadline June 4)

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-- Syral China Investment, which is part of Tereos International, and Wilmar China New Investments, which is a unit of the Wilmar group, to acquire joint control of Liaoning Jinxin Biology & Chemistry which is now solely owned by Wilmar (April 24/deadline June 4/simplified)

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JUNE 6

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-- Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut to buy the cocoa business of Singaporean group Petra Foods (notified April 26/deadline June 6)

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-- Austrian chemical company Borealis to buy French oil giant Total's GPN fertiliser business and a majority stake in Belgium-based Rosier (notified April 26/deadline June 6)

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JUNE 7

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-- Russian dairy producer OJSC Unimilk Co, which is controlled by French food group Danone Group, and French logistics company NDL International, which is controlled by French transport group Norbert Dentressangle, to form a logistics joint venture (notified April 29/deadline June 7/simplified)

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-- Dutch staffing company Randstad to acquire some of Dutch peer USG People NV's assets (notified April 29/deadline June 7)

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-- Private equity firms Lion Capital and Avedon Capital Partners to acquire joint control of Dutch snack producer AD Van Geloven Holding (notified April 29/deadline June 7/simplified)

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-- Finnish paper producer Ahlstrom to merge with a unit of Swedish company Munksjo, which is partly owned by private equity fund EQT (notified Oct. 31/deadline extended for the second time to June 7 from May 16 after Ahlstrom offered concessions)

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JUNE 11

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-- Private equity firm KKR to acquire indirect control of French clothing retailer SMCP (notified May 2/deadline June 11/simplified)

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-- French construction group Vinci to buy Portuguese airports operator Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) (notified May 2/deadline June 11)

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JUNE 14

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-- Diversified U.S. manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. to acquire mobile computing device maker Intermec For $600 million (notified Feb. 15/deadline June 14)

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JUNE 20

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-- U.S. communications company Syniverse Technologies to buy Luxembourg-based communications services company Mach (notified Nov. 16/deadline extended for the third time to June 20 from May 30 after Syniverse offered additional commitments)

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SEPT 3

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-- Greek carrier Aegean Airlines to buy Olympic Air (notified Feb. 28/deadline extended for the second time to Sept. 3 from April 23 after the Commission opened an in-depth investigation)

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SEPT 6

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-- Swedish refiner Nynas to purchase certain assets from Royal Dutch Shell's Harburg refinery (notified Feb. 19/deadline extended for the second time to Sept. 6 from Aug. 8)

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GUIDE TO EU MERGER PROCESS

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DEADLINES:

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The European Commission has 25 working days after a deal is filed for a first-stage review. It may extend that by 10 working days to 35 working days, to consider either a company's proposed remedies or an EU member state's request to handle the case.

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Most mergers win approval but occasionally the Commission opens a detailed second-stage investigation for up to 90 additional working days, which it may extend to 105 working days.

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SIMPLIFIED:

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Under the simplified procedure, the Commission announces the clearance of uncontroversial first-stage mergers without giving any reason for its decision. Cases may be reclassified as non-simplified -- that is, ordinary first-stage reviews -- until they are approved.

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Commerzbank in talks to sell 5.7 bln euros of UK property loans

Commerzbank is in intensive talks to divest the bulk of its 5.7 billion euros ($7.4 billion) in British property loans, Germany's second biggest lender said in the prospectus of its capital increase published on Tuesday.

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Commerzbank wants to sell the portfolio to private equity investor Lone Star and U.S. bank Wells Fargo, a source familiar with the transaction had said last month.

 

Commerzbank is hiving off the UK property loans business of its mortgage unit Hypothekenbank Frankfurt International, formerly known as Eurohypo as a way to cut down the size of its balance sheet.

RLPC-Master Blenders 3.3 bln acquisition loan launched to funds

The banks arranging the 3.3 billion euro loan backing the German investor Joh A Benckiser's (JAB) 7.5 billion euro ($9.74 billion) bid for Dutch coffee and tea company DE Master Blenders 1753 launched the deal to funds on Tuesday, banking sources said.

The banks are looking to raise 1 billion euros from funds -- 60/40 in euros and dollars, respectively -- which will supplement funds raised from around 15 banks that were invited in the first phase of syndication.

 

The fully underwritten all-senior loan is being arranged by Bank of America, Citibank, Rabobank and Morgan Stanley.

A series of five meetings were held on Tuesday with around 20 funds, which were asked to commit a minimum of 50 million euros each, bankers said.

Funds will be offered a commitment fee to compensate them for their commitments until the acquisition closes and funds are drawn, which is expected in July.

The deal is structured as a 1.25 billion euro, three-year term loan A at 350 bps over EURIBOR, a 1.75 billion euro, five-year term loan B at 375 bps and a 300 million euro, five-year revolving credit facility, 350 bps.

The size of the 1 billion euro institutional tranche and the mix of euros and dollars may be adjusted depending on the response from banks, which has been positive so far, according to the leads.

15 banks were asked to commit 200 million euros each for a fee of 150bps in the first phase of syndication. Lenders would prefer to be scaled back to around 150 million-160 million euros of exposure, given the company's credit rating.

The 1 billion euro institutional carveout of the five-year term loan B has a 1 percent Libor floor which guarantees returns to investors.

Master Blenders is currently rated BBB/Baa2, but is expected to have a BB- credit rating after the acquisition, bankers said. ($1 = 0.7703 euros) (Editing by Christopher Mangham)

Failed bid for Betfair highlights public-to-private pitfalls

The collapse of the bid by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners to take Betfair private highlights how it has become increasingly difficult to pull off such deals.

 

CVC said on Tuesday that it had ended its 1 billion pound ($1.5 billion) attempt to buy the online gambling company after the two failed to agree on price and strategy.

Public-to-private deals, where a company listed on a stock market is bought out by a private buyer, helped to drive the boom in private equity dealmaking in 2006 and 2007.

About half of all private equity mergers and acquisitions (M&A) globally in those years were public-to-private deals, Thomson Reuters data show. Since then, however, the figure has dropped significantly. Last year it was only 12 percent.

Private equity firms are interested in acquiring public companies they view as undervalued by the market and which they believe could improve performance significantly under private ownership.

One of the main benefits of going private is that a company does not have to publish quarterly results. This allows management to take a longer-term view on business strategy because short-term profit falls will not face such intense scrutiny.

Bankers and private equity groups predict some activity this year, though a return to boom times is not expected.

"There are a number of public companies that are not run with the same sort of rigour and pace of a private equity-owned business," said Fred Wakeman, managing partner at Advent International.

In spite of that, he does not expect the volume of public-to-private deals to return to previous levels. "The private equity industry in 2006 and 2007 was a bit of an anomaly," he said.

In those days, bankers were knocking down the doors of private equity groups to offer debt packages to buy public companies. Though bankers say that funding is still available and that they are working on several possible deals, it's a far cry from the free-flowing finance of the golden years.

"Headline-grabbing debt deals are probably not where boards of lending banks are pointing their people to go right now," said Graham Elton, partner at management consultant Bain & Company.

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'PUT UP OR SHUT UP'

In the UK, the process was also made less attractive by changes to the takeover rules in 2011. Potential bidders are now named publicly and must comply with a 'put up or shut up' deadline.

Last month CVC was forced to announce that it was considering a bid for Betfair after it was leaked to media. It then had 28 days to make a bid, though the target company can ask for this deadline to be extended.

"Once you are named publicly, that is not an attractive place to be," said Fraser Robson, associate director at private equity company The Carlyle Group.

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"If a company is being sold in an auction or structured process, they have done three months of preparatory work to get their long-term business plan and detailed financials in order. When you approach a public company, it is not expecting to be sold and so is unlikely to be prepared for diligence."

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Bidders also tend to receive more restricted access to data than when they are in talks with a private company, making it harder to assess the target's future prospects.

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"The level of detail is weaker and, because of an underlying caution about the general economy, sponsors have an increased concern that they won't have all their due diligence properly ticked off," Advent's Wakeman said.

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The maths can be another sticking point, with takeover buyers generally expected to pay a premium of about 30 percent to the pre-bid share price.

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The premium makes it difficult for private equity groups to meet the annual returns they target for their investors. They are also unlikely to benefit from the cost-saving synergies that justify the premium for some corporate buyers.

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Then there's the rally in stock markets this year, which has served to make listed targets more expensive.

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And if that's not enough obstacles, many companies have spent the past few years reducing their debt, making them less attractive to private equity because the bid premium becomes a higher proportion of enterprise value.

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"The stars really have to align, and that makes it quite hard," Carlyle's Robson said. "If you have the choice between two similar opportunities and one is a public-to-private, you are going to spend your time on the other."

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RLPC-Frans Bonhomme lenders brace for restructuring

Lenders to French plumbing group Frans Bonhomme are bracing for losses in an expected restructuring of its debt as the company prepares to default on its loan prepayments, banking sources said on Tuesday.

Private equity firm Cinven bought Frans Bonhomme in 2005 for 893 million euros ($1.16 billion) backed with 735 million euros of debt, according to Thomson Reuters LPC data. The company had to reset its debt covenants in 2011 and has run into difficulty again amid difficult economic conditions, bankers said.

 

Bankers said the company sent a letter to lenders on Monday stating an event of default would occur as they are not able to make a payment to reduce their debt specified in the original agreement. Some debt agreements provide for companies to make agreed prepayments early on a portion of their loan.

Frans Bonhomme's debt is also gaining attention from distressed debt investors looking to buy it cheaply in Europe's secondary loan market in the hope that they will earn more than they paid once a sale or refinancing is completed. Its term loans are currently quoted at 74 percent of face value, traders said - a level that is considered distressed in the leveraged loan market.

Cinven was not immediately available to comment.

Frans Bonhomme is the market leader in the distribution of plastic pipes and fittings in France, according to Cinven's website. ($1 = 0.7705 euros) (Editing by Patrick Graham)

Nationalised German bank starts sale of Depfa unit - sources

State-rescued German bank Hypo Real Estate is preparing to sell its public finance specialist Depfa, with Citi appointed to organise the sale, two people familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

Hypo Real Estate has to sell Depfa by the end of 2014, and its pbb Deutsche Pfandbriefbank unit by 2015 as a condition for the European Commission's approval of its state bailout.

 

Germany nationalised the stricken real estate lender which collapsed in the aftermath of the Lehman Bros bankruptcy. Hypo Real Estate received a 10 billion euro capital injection in the wake of the financial crisis as well as 145 billion euros in liquidity guarantees.

Depfa, which has not underwritten new business since 2009, last year posted a net profit of 59 million euros. Depfa currently has a balance sheet total of around 73 billion euros.

Any buyer would get a large public finance portfolio.

Of Depfa's borrowers, 26 percent are regional governments, 24 percent public sector enterprises and 22 percent sovereigns. 24 percent of the portfolio stems from safe-haven Germany and 19 percent from the United States while 8 percent is made up of Spanish and 5 percent Italian debt.

Hypo Real Estate is likely to approach mainly investors such as private equity firms Lone Star, J.C. Flowers or Apollo for a potential acquisition of Depfa, one of the two sources said.

Last month Belgian 'bad bank' Royal Park Investments sold its structured credit portfolio to Lone Star and Credit Suisse for 6.7 billion euros ($8.7 billion).

In February 2012, a consortium of hedge funds approached Hypo Real Estate offering to buy Depfa for a fraction of the book value. While no deal materialised last year, the consortium continues to be interested, a person familiar with the investor group said.

Boutique advisory firm Moelis is advising the consortium. The investment bank declined to comment.

"It will not be an easy sell as investors are likely to demand a steep discount on the portfolio and Hypo Real Estate cannot afford to book a large writedown," a sector banker said.

Hypo Real Estate and Citi declined to comment.

Brazil mulls changing some rules for fund industry, CVM says

Brazilian securities regulator CVM is considering changes to the rules governing investment funds in hopes of boosting transparency and financial innovation as interest rates are likely to stay near record lows for a long period of time.

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The agency is currently in talks with asset managers, asset custodians and other players in the country's $1.2 trillion industry to discuss potential modifications to the so-called Instrução 409, CVM President Leonardo Pereira said on Tuesday at a news conference in São Paulo.

Changes could be broad or specific, depending on feedback from industry executives, Ana Novaes, a CVM director, said. In either scenario, potential changes will be discussed at a public hearing, she said.

Any modifications to terms of the rules aim to help funds better cope with the benefits and risks of Brazil's historic decline in borrowing costs, which is forcing money managers to diversify into riskier instruments to propel returns.

 

Some of the risks include clients failing to understand the new products or financial innovation lagging behind demand for more complex products.

"Things like a stretching out of maturities or the search for more risk are not being motivated by regulatory changes or tax reasons. It's an evolution that we see as natural because of this new reality," Novaes said on the sidelines of a fund industry conference.

No timetable has been set for any changes in the rules, the CVM officials said. The Instrução 409 help classify funds and give general guidelines for the industry.

More specific guidelines might be needed in order to smooth the transition from the current model into one that better addresses liquidity, risk, return and transparency concerns, Demosthenes Pinho Neto, chief executive of investment fund Brasil Warrant Investimentos, told an industry event on Tuesday.

Deals of the day -- mergers and acquisitions

The following bids, mergers, acquisitions and disposals were reported by 2000 GMT on Tuesday:

** Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners has ended a 1 billion pound ($1.5 billion) attempt to buy online betting exchange Betfair after the two companies failed to agree on price and strategy.

** Sony Corp, responding to a shareholder's call for it to spin off its entertainment operations, said the businesses were important to its growth strategy and "are not for sale."

** Chinese state-controlled power equipment maker XD Group is in early talks to buy General Electric Co's joint venture with Mexico's Xignux SA for up to $1 billion, a person familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

 

** Belgian cancer diagnosis and therapy company Ion Beam Applications said it had provisionally agreed the sale of its drug discovery arm to a European private equity firm for 25 million euros ($32.5 million).

** Shares in Severn Trent surged to all-time highs after the British water company confirmed it had received a takeover approach from a consortium including Borealis Infrastructure and the Kuwait Investment Office.

** Dish Network Corp said on Tuesday it will sell $2.5 billion in debt to help fund a $25 billion bid for Sprint Nextel Corp, and that it believes it has answered all questions posed by a special committee of Sprint's board.

** U.S. hedge fund Third Point has agreed to buy a stake in Energean Oil & Gas, a small Greek oil producer, for $60 million, the two firms said in a statement on Tuesday.

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** Egypt's Orascom Telecom Holding said its board of directors had recommended rejecting an offer by a subsidiary of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman's Altimo to buy out the mobile company for $0.70 per share.

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** French media-and-telecoms conglomerate Vivendi SA confirmed it would keep developing Brazilian unit GVT and said it is reviewing options for listed video-game subsidiary Activision Blizzard.

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** State-rescued German bank Hypo Real Estate is preparing to sell its public finance specialist Depfa, with Citi appointed to organize the sale, two people familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

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** Norway's government supports state-controlled fish farmer Cermaq's plan to buy Peruvian fish feed peer Copeinca and thereby effectively kills a potential deal with bigger rival Marine Harvest, Cermaq said on Tuesday.

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** Europe's largest bank HSBC said it may sell its private banking business in Monaco as part of an ongoing strategic review.

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BRIEF-H.I.G. buys Freedom Finance Nordic

H.I.G. - * H.I.G. completes first investment in Nordics: Freedom Finance * Hig - terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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Alliance Boots year profit up 6 pct

Alliance Boots, owner of Europe's biggest pharmacy chain, posted a 6.1 percent rise in year trading profit and said it was confident about its growth prospects.

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The firm said on Wednesday it made a trading profit of 1.27 billion pounds ($1.94 billion) in the year to March 31, though revenue was down 2.6 percent to 22.4 billion pounds as consumers across Europe grappled with government austerity measures and fallout from the euro zone debt crisis.

Last year United States drugstore chain Walgreen purchased a 45 percent stake in Alliance Boots in a $6.7 billion cash and stock deal. It has an option to proceed to a full combination in two years.

 

Trading profit rose 6.8 percent to 865 million pounds in the group's health and beauty division, and increased 5.1 percent to 435 million pounds in its pharmaceutical wholesale division.

Net borrowings were reduced by 1.12 billion pounds.

"We continue to be confident about our prospects and ability to pursue profitable growth, organically, from our synergy programmes and through international expansion," said executive chairman Stefano Pessina.

Carlyle-backed General Lighting plans Saudi share sale-sources

General Lighting Co, a Saudi Arabian company part-owned by Carlyle Group, plans to sell its shares on the Saudi stock market, paving the way for the private equity firm to exit its stake, two sources said.

General Lighting is the largest lighting company in Saudi Arabia and Carlyle acquired its 30 percent stake in the firm for an undisclosed amount in March 2010.

 

Washington D.C.-based Carlyle, which had assets under management of $176 billion at the end of March, has hired Riyadh-based GIB Capital and law firm Latham & Watkins to help arrange the initial public offering (IPO), the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public.

Saudi Arabia is the largest Gulf Arab stock market and the only bourse in the region where initial share sales have been active in the last few years.

Companies in Saudi Arabia generally offer 30 percent of their capital in IPO. A spokeswoman for Carlyle in London declined to comment. Dow Jones newswire reported the IPO filing plan earlier in the day.

Carlyle raised $500 million in 2007 for its debut fund in the region. The fund now has stakes in six companies in its portfolio, including Turkish lingerie and swim wear maker Penti and Jordanian firm Nabil Foods, which the firm bought in May.

It has not exited any of its investments in the region so far. Carlyle owns a 40-percent stake in Turkish hospitals group Medical Park and London-based private equity fund Pamplona Capital Management is in exclusive talks to buy a majority stake in the firm, a source close to the matter told Reuters in April.

BRIEF-Pamplona says buys U.S.-based Coinmach, AIR-serv

Pamplona: * Coinmach Service Corp and Air-Serv acquired by Pamplona Capital Management

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for $1.4 billion. * Pamplona Capital-deal was financed by a $795 million first lien term loan, as

well as a $325 million second lien term loan

Pamplona buys U.S.-based Coinmach, AIR-serv for total $1.4 bln

Pamplona Capital Management said it acquired two U.S.-based companies -- Coinmach Service Corp, a provider of laundry services, and AIR-serv Group, which provides vacuum services and tyre inflation for cars -- for a combined $1.4 billion.

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The two companies will be combined to form CSC ServiceWorks Inc, London-based private equity fund Pamplona said in a statement on Wednesday.

 

The transaction was financed by a $795 million first-lien term loan, as well as a $325 million second-lien term loan that was fully underwritten by Pamplona.

Morgan Stanley was the financial adviser and Kirkland & Ellis the legal adviser to Pamplona. Evercore Partners and Deutsche Bank were the financial advisers to CSC ServiceWorks and White & Case was the legal adviser.

JC Flowers buys British debt collection business from AnaCap

Private equity firm AnaCap said on Wednesday it had agreed to sell British consumer debt collector Cabot Credit Management (CCM) to U.S. investment firm JC Flowers.

JC Flowers, headed by investment manager Christopher Flowers, has been actively looking for investments in the British financial services industry, having established a small UK banking business through its acquisition of the Kent Reliance building society two years ago.

 

It recently submitted a bid proposal for the 315 'Rainbow' branches being sold by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Financial details for the Cabot deal were not disclosed but the Financial Times had reported the price would be around 800 million pounds ($1.2 billion) including debt.

CCM, formed through the merger of Apex Credit Management and Cabot Financial in 2011, has 7.7 billion pounds of assets under management covering more than 3.5 million customer accounts. Last year, it grew its annual earnings by 23 percent to 111 million pounds.

Motor racing's Ecclestone denies bribery in German case - lawyers

Lawyers for Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone reiterated on Wednesday he had not bribed a German banker during the 2005-6 sale of a stake in the motor racing business, after a newspaper reported he had been charged by prosecutors.

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Prosecutors in Munich have completed an investigation into Ecclestone and German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday they had charged the 82-year-old Briton, who has turned the sport into a global money spinner over the past three decades, with bribery and inciting others to a fiduciary breach of trust.

"The documents with the charges from the Munich prosecutor's office have not yet been received by the defense," German law firm Thomas Deckers Wehnert Elsner said, acting for Ecclestone.

"Therefore we cannot provide a statement. The defense sticks to its view that Mr. Ecclestone has neither committed bribery nor played any part in committing a fiduciary breach of trust," added the firm, based in the German city of Duesseldorf.

 

The Munich prosecutor's office declined to comment on the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report. On Monday, it said it had finished its investigation, but declined to comment on what it might do next.

Under the German legal system, once a preliminary investigation has been completed, prosecutors need to decide whether to press ahead with charges or drop the matter. Prosecutors could also drop the proceedings in exchange for a "non penal payment."

At issue is whether Ecclestone bribed a German banker in a business deal in which lender BayernLB sold a 48 percent stake in a Formula One holding company to CVC, a private equity investor which Ecclestone was keen to see as a new shareholder.

Ecclestone made payments to Gerhard Gribkowsky, BayernLB's former chief risk officer, who has since been jailed for tax evasion. BayernLB had ended up with the Formula One stake following the bankruptcy of the media empire of Leo Kirch. BayernLB assigned Gribkowsky with the task of hiving it off.

In June last year, Ecclestone denied the payments to Gribkowsky amounted to bribes. Instead, he told a Munich court in November 2011 that he paid Gribkowsky to "keep him quiet" after the German put him under pressure over his tax affairs, and not to smooth the sale to CVC.

CVC owned a 63 percent stake in Formula One but has since cut that to around 35 percent in a series of deals.

Ecclestone told Reuters last month that the company behind Formula One could be floated in Singapore at the end of this year.

Fund managers fail to offload investments following crisis -data

Private equity funds have struggled to offload investments made before the financial crisis and are taking longer to pay out to investors, research showed on Wednesday.

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Data from research firm Prequin showed that companies sold by funds in 2012 were held for an average of 5 years, compared to an average holding period of 3.9 years for companies sold in 2008.

"Fund managers are still struggling to sell investments for a sufficient profit that were purchased at peak prices during the buyout boom, and consequently are holding portfolio companies for longer," said Ignatius Fogarty, Head of Private Equity Products at Prequin.

Just 33 percent of the capital investors chipped into deals made in 2007 has been returned in the last six years, compared to a 95 percent pay back rate in the six years after 2001.

 

Actavis rejected $15 billion offer from Mylan - source

Actavis Inc received and rejected a takeover offer from Mylan Inc last week that valued the generic drugmaker at more than $15 billion, a person familiar with the situation told Reuters on Tuesday.

Mylan's cash and stock bid for its larger rival, which came in early last week, valued Actavis at $120 per share, the person said, asking not to be identified because the matter is not public.

 

The Mylan offer came shortly after Actavis halted discussions with Canadian drugmaker Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc about selling itself for more than $13 billion, the person said.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Mylan is no longer actively pursuing a deal after shares of Actavis rose significantly over the past week, to above its $120 per share offer, the person added.

Actavis shares ended Tuesday at $121.68 on the New York Stock Exchange, valuing the company at more than $15.5 billion. Mylan shares rose 3 percent to $30.10, making the company worth about $11.5 billion.

An Actavis spokesman and a Mylan spokeswoman declined to comment. News of Mylan's offer and its rejection by Actavis was first reported by Bloomberg.

Actavis said on Friday it is in preliminary talks to acquire specialty pharmaceutical company Warner Chilcott Plc.

RPT-UPDATE 1-New faces at Rio, BHP woo investors with austerity talk

New bosses at two of the world's largest mining companies, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto , wooed investors on Tuesday with promises to slash billions of dollars of spending and press ahead with asset sales, boosting returns.

 

Mining companies have come under pressure from investors for splashing out on pricey projects during the industry's boom years - at the expense of shareholder returns - while costs spiralled out of control.

At an industry conference that marks one of his first public appearances, new BHP boss Andrew Mackenzie promised a "relentless" focus on productivity to boost margins, and said capital and exploration expenditure next year would drop to around $18 billion, including investment in the miner's onshore oil and gas business.

That is down almost a fifth from BHP's 2013 financial year - as spending associated with its major projects drops - and is expected to fall further to some $15 billion, "or less" as the company reduces the number of major projects that are approved, hoping to keep a lid on debt levels.

Analysts welcomed the drop, though some had expected more.

"I stress, if our investment criteria cannot be met in any one project, product or geography, we will redirect our capital elsewhere or we will not invest," Mackenzie said, adding lower spending would mean "even more capital returned to shareholders".

Mackenzie, who took up his role at the world's largest mining company earlier this month, said the group was also pressing ahead with its plan to focus on big projects in more developed countries. He did not exclude an approval for its Jansen potash project in Canada, on which no decision has been made - but promised sales.

"It will come as no surprise that I will continue to simplify the portfolio. However, as I have said in the past, value will remain a primary consideration," he said.

BHP has sold off $5 billion of assets this financial year, including the Yeelirrie uranium deposit, a stake in Richards Bay Minerals, its diamond business, and is in the process of selling the Pinto Valley copper mine in Arizona.

Speaking at the same conference, Rio's own new chief executive, Sam Walsh, echoed comments on lower spending, confirming $2 billion of cost cuts in 2013. Like BHP, Rio will seek to reduce its capital expenditure - from $17 billion last year to around $13 billion.

Walsh also promised "significant cash proceeds" from asset sales this year, as Rio, like its peers, focuses on core assets. Rio, battling its debt burden, has a long list of assets on the block, from its diamond arm to aluminium.

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"We are looking at further disposals of potential non-core assets, in addition to those already announced," Walsh said.

Shareholders have welcomed the cost cuts, miners' new-found focus on returns and the gospel of "acting like owners", but at least one investor questioned BHP's Mackenzie on the risk of "shareholder-forced group-think" and the need to invest even when prices are lower.

"I will invest less to grow the company more," Mackenzie said, promising to invest "through the cycle rather than in a counter cyclical way".

The first major test is likely to be the $8 billion Jansen project - one of few major greenfield projects still in the BHP pipeline, though it will not be approved before next year.

"(Jansen) has to perform," Mackenzie told the conference.

"It has to compete for a smaller amount of capital."

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UPDATE 2-Itaú to buy Citigroup consumer finance business in Brazil

Itaú Unibanco Holding SA will take over Citigroup Inc's Brazilian consumer finance units for 2.77 billion reais ($1.37 billion), as the nation's biggest bank by market value expands more rapidly in the local credit card market.

Under the terms of the deal, Itaú will take over Banco Citicard SA and Citifinancial Promotora Ltda, as well as the Credicard card brand that serves more than 4.8 million clients, according to a securities filing on Tuesday. The unit has about 8 billion reais in assets, the filing said.

 

With the purchase, Credicard returns to Itaú, which was Citigroup's partner in the company until 2006. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval.

The transaction also gives Itaú an edge in the card market in Brazil, where more than 40 million people have in the past decade joined the ranks of the middle class and increasingly using financial products. With the Credicard purchase, Itaú's credit card base will rise to 37.7 million from 32.8 million at the end of last month, the bank said.

On the other hand, the sale allows Citigroup to make progress toward a longstanding plan to exit non-core businesses in some key markets.

"We are strengthening our leadership in the consumer finance and credit card markets in which we have an ample portfolio of products and services and specialized platforms," Itaú Chief Executive Officer Roberto Egydio Setubal was quoted as saying in the filing.

The bank is focusing on fee-related activities to try to stem a decline in revenue from loans in the face of an abrupt decline in interest rates, two years of sub-par economic growth and rising leverage among some consumers. Last year, Itaú took control of the 49 percent it did not own of redecard SA, Brazil's No. 2 card payment processor, for about 10.5 billion reais, seeking to boost revenue from the segment.

Itaú trumped Banco Santander Brasil SA and Banco Bradesco SA, which sources recently told Reuters were in the race for Credicard. Under the terms of the transaction, Itaú will be allowed to book earnings from Credicard operations from Jan. 1, the filing said.

The sale of Credicard is expected to generate an after-tax gain for Citigroup of about $300 million, the New York-based bank said in a statement. Citigroup's retail banking business in Brazil will not be affected by the sale of Credicard, the same statement added.

Itaú shares rose 1.5 percent to 34.52 reais on Tuesday, extending gains so far this year to 5.2 percent.

Market Chatter-Corporate finance press digest

The following corporate finance-related stories were reported by media on Wednesday:

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* Actavis Inc received and rejected a takeover offer from Mylan Inc last week that valued the generic drugmaker at more than $15 billion, a person familiar with the situation told Reuters on Tuesday.

* State-owned China Galaxy Securities Co Ltd priced its initial public offering at the lower end of the indicative price range, raising $1.1 billion, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

 

* State-rescued German bank Hypo Real Estate Holding AG is preparing to sell its public finance specialist Depfa, with Citigroup Inc appointed to organise the sale, two people familiar with the situation said on Tuesday.

* The parent of Dongfeng Motor Group Co, China's second-largest automaker, will take an over-40 percent stake in Fujian Motor Industry Group, a local newspaper said on Wednesday, the latest consolidation in the country's fragmented auto market.

* Shares in German lender Commerzbank AG, which are currently held by Germany's bank rescue fund Soffin, are being placed at a price range between 6.60-7.00 euros ($8.57-$9.08) a piece, two people familiar with the transaction said on Tuesday.

ThyssenKrupp cuts Steel Americas value to 3.4 bln euros

German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp has written down the book value of its Steel Americas business, which it has been trying to sell, to 3.4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) from 3.9 billion, it said in a presentation published on Wednesday.

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The company earlier reported an unexpected quarterly loss due to the writedown.

BRIEF-Liberty names new Virgin Media CFO

Liberty Global Inc : * Robert Dunn named chief financial officer ("CFO") of virgin media upon the closing of acquisition

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UPDATE 2-Hopes of Americas sale rise as Thyssen takes writedown

German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp took another writedown on the value its Steel Americas business, driving it to an unexpected quarterly loss but raising hopes it is closer to selling the troubled asset.

 

The firm said on Wednesday it was cutting the book value of Steel Americas, which comprises a mill in Brazil and another in the United States, to 3.4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) from 3.9 billion, which analysts said showed it was ready to accept a lower price and could be nearing a long-anticipated deal.

"The precise figure of 683 million euros (for the writedown) indicates that the deal is imminent," analyst Heino Ruland of Ruland Research said.

At 0820 GMT, ThyssenKrupp shares were up 4 percent at 15.715 euros, among the biggest rises by a European blue-chip stock .

Steel Americas has been a thorn in ThyssenKrupp's side for years, as the project cost more than expected to set up and then racked up losses as steel prices and demand were weakened by a faltering global economy.

Sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters that ThyssenKrupp was in talks with Brazilian steelmaker CSN , as well as a consortium of ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest steelmaker, and Japan's Nippon Steel over a potential sale of Steel Americas.

Both sets of bidders have offered more than $3 billion, but less than the book value at the time. U.S. Steel and Nucor have put in bids just for the U.S. mill, the sources added.

A sale of Steel Americas at even the lowered book value would be a "great result", Davy analyst Tim Cahill said, "given that the market is factoring in 2.0-2.5 billion euros".

UNDER PRESSURE

ThyssenKrupp Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger has been trying to offload the mills as he shifts investments to higher-margin products and services, such as elevators, submarines and parts for manufacturing plants.

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The writedown pushed ThyssenKrupp to an unexpected net loss of 656 million euros for the fiscal second quarter through the end of March. Analysts had on average expected a profit of 25.5 million euros.

Even excluding Steel Americas and other units up for sale, ThyssenKrupp remained in the red, posting a net loss that narrowed to 89 million from 164 million euros.

The operating margin of its continuing businesses shrank to zero from 3 percent a year earlier on a slump in steel prices, weak demand for car and wind turbine components and provisions it set aside to cover fines and claims related to a rail cartel.

ThyssenKrupp is nearing the end of a push to sell assets with a total of 10 billion euros in annual revenue, and is also cutting costs and changing management structures in an attempt to return the company to growth and pay down debt.

It said on Wednesday that it would cut 3,000 of 15,000 administrative jobs as part of its savings plan.

But CEO Hiesinger still faces an uphill battle as the global economy remains weak and after a series of setbacks and scandals caused him to axe half his management board late last year.

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ThyssenKrupp warned on Wednesday it no longer expected sales to remain stable at about 40 billion euros in its fiscal year ending in September, following an 11 percent drop in quarterly revenue from continuing businesses.

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It still expects adjusted operating profit from those businesses to decline to about 1 billion euros from 1.4 billion.

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ArcelorMittal posted a smaller-than-expected 26 percent drop in first-quarter core earnings last week, cushioned by cost cutting.

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($1 = 0.7705 euros) (Additional reporting by Hakan Ersen; Editing by Harro ten Wolde and Mark Potter)

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BRIEF-H.I.G. buys Freedom Finance Nordic

H.I.G. - * H.I.G. completes first investment in Nordics: Freedom Finance * Hig - terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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Time Warner seeks approval to take voting rights in CME

Time Warner Inc. has sought European Commission approval to exercise voting rights in proportion to its 49.9 percent stake in broadcaster Central European Media Enterprises (CME) , CME said on Wednesday.

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The request comes before an agreement is due to lapse at the end of June whereby Time Warner's shareholder voting rights were exercised by CME's founder Ronald Lauder.

 

The arrangement dates from the U.S. media group's 2009 investment in the broadcaster, when they agreed that Lauder, who now owns 6.4 percent of CME, would hold Time Warner's voting rights for at least four years.

"Time Warner requested approval from the European Commission to vote its 49.9 percent interest in CME," CME investor relations manager Ivana Aquin said in an emailed statement.

The Commission received the notification on May 8 and has set a June 17 deadline for a decision.

Time Warner bought 31 percent of CME for $241.5 million in CME in 2009 and has gradually raised its holding in the company founded by billionaire Lauder in 1994.

Last year, it injected cash into CME, which has struggled with declining advertising markets and made a record quarterly loss at the end of 2012.

CME, which is aiming to cut its debt load of more than $1 billion, raised around $150 million in a share issue this month in which Time Warner committed to buying 49.9 percent of the shares on offer to maintain its stake.

CME also plans to sell $200 million of convertible class B preferred stock to Time Warner.

CME owns Czech commercial station TV Nova and Slovak station TV Markiza and has businesses in Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.

Warner Music wins EU okay for Parlophone buy

Warner Music won EU regulatory approval on Wednesday to buy the Parlophone Label Group from Vivendi's Universal Music Group for 487 million pounds ($743.01 million).

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World No. 1 recorded music company Universal is selling Parlophone, whose artists include Coldplay and Daft Punk, to fulfil a promise to the European Commission for clearing its $1.9 billion buy of EMI's recorded music business.

The EU antitrust authority said it did not see any competition issues from the Warner deal. Warner is owned by privately held Access Industries Inc.

 

EU regulators to investigate Spanish aid for Ford

EU antitrust regulators will investigate whether a 25.2 million euros ($32.71 million) grant given by Spanish authorities to U.S. carmaker Ford Motor Co's van facility in Valencia breached EU state aid rules.

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Ford plans to produce a new model of Ford Transit Connect in Valencia, with the cost of the project estimated at 419.9 million euros. Spain informed the European Commission of its grant last year.

The European Commission said on Wednesday that a preliminary investigation showed that the project might exceed the authorised 5 percent increase in production capacity on a market in decline.

"At this stage, the Commission has doubts that the data provided by Spain is appropriate to determine whether the market concerned is in decline," it said in a statement.

 

GM's Opel says to move Zafira assembly to Ruesselsheim

General Motors' loss-making European brand Opel will move production of the multi-purpose vehicle Zafira to Ruesselsheim in Germany, shoring up its headquarters as it prepares to close another German site.

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"This will make Ruesselsheim the site to exclusively build the two largest and most work-intensive Opel model classes - the Opel flagship Insignia in all its versions and the Zafira Tourer," Opel said on Wednesday.

 

As part of a turnaround plan, Opel will end production of the Zafira at its 50-year old Bochum plant by the end of next year. The plant closure is part of Opel's strategy to achieve profitability in 2015.

Company sources had told Reuters that Ruesselsheim would take over Zafira production during the last two years of the model's life-cycle, profiting from Bochum's demise.

Ashland raises dividend, buybacks after Jana picks up stake

Chemical maker Ashland Inc raised its quarterly dividend by more than 50 percent and nearly doubled its share buyback program, a month after hedge fund Jana Partners LLC picked up a large stake.

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Ashland's board raised the quarterly cash dividend to 34 cents per share from 22.5 cents. This is the highest dividend the company has paid, according to Thomson Reuters data.

 

The chemical maker also unveiled a $600 million stock repurchase plan, replacing a previous program that had about $330 million remaining.

"We will continue to look for ways to unlock value and generate significant returns for Ashland shareholders," Chief Executive James O'Brien said in a statement.

Barry Rosenstein's Jana Partners had said Ashland's shares were undervalued when it picked up a 7.4 percent stake in April.

The hedge fund, the second-largest shareholder in the company, has held discussions with Ashland about the company's business, corporate structure, capitalization, operations, strategy and future plans.

Jana Partners is also lobbying for change at oilfield services provider Oil States International Inc

Carlyle-backed General Lighting plans Saudi share sale-sources

General Lighting Co, a Saudi Arabian company part-owned by Carlyle Group, plans to sell its shares on the Saudi stock market, paving the way for the private equity firm to exit its stake, two sources said.

General Lighting is the largest lighting company in Saudi Arabia and Carlyle acquired its 30 percent stake in the firm for an undisclosed amount in March 2010.

 

Washington D.C.-based Carlyle, which had assets under management of $176 billion at the end of March, has hired Riyadh-based GIB Capital and law firm Latham & Watkins to help arrange the initial public offering (IPO), the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is not public.

Saudi Arabia is the largest Gulf Arab stock market and the only bourse in the region where initial share sales have been active in the last few years.

Companies in Saudi Arabia generally offer 30 percent of their capital in IPO. A spokeswoman for Carlyle in London declined to comment. Dow Jones newswire reported the IPO filing plan earlier in the day.

Carlyle raised $500 million in 2007 for its debut fund in the region. The fund now has stakes in six companies in its portfolio, including Turkish lingerie and swim wear maker Penti and Jordanian firm Nabil Foods, which the firm bought in May.

It has not exited any of its investments in the region so far. Carlyle owns a 40-percent stake in Turkish hospitals group Medical Park and London-based private equity fund Pamplona Capital Management is in exclusive talks to buy a majority stake in the firm, a source close to the matter told Reuters in April.

UPDATE 2-MegaFon muscles ahead in Russian mobile market

MegaFon has overtaken its main competitor in Russia's cut-throat mobile phone market, posting bumper earnings on Wednesday to help crown it leader by market value and put its other rival in the shade.

 

MegaFon, owned by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov, lags New-York listed MTS in terms of revenues and subscriber numbers, but as a result of an aggressive cost-cutting campaign launched last year, it was able to hike its margin forecast and announce a dividend of $1.3 billion, helping its shares rise.

Its results put Vimpelcom, Russia's third-biggest mobile phone provider with assets in emerging markets and Italy, firmly in its place. It failed to impress analysts by reporting a below-forecast 28 percent rise in net profit on Wednesday.

"MegaFon has probably shown the strongest results that any other operator is unlikely to match," said Anna Lepetukhina, analyst at Sberbank Investment Research.

Since its November initial public offering, shares in MegaFon have risen by 68 percent, valuing the company at $20.6 billion, above $19.9 billion for MTS and Vimpelcom.

"It used to have quite high expenses in the past because it was an aggressive player, focused on growing revenues rather than on efficiency," Lepetukhina said. "Now that it's focused on efficiency, it has room to cut (costs) and improve efficiency."

Russia's mobile operators have been focusing on cutting costs as the market has matured, meaning there is less need to spend on advertising revenues to lure new subscribers, although they have had to invest in rolling out next-generation networks.

MegaFon, which analysts say is best placed of all Russia's mobile phone firms for the 4G roll out, reported a 36.5 percent rise in first-quarter net income to 12.6 billion roubles, above the 10.6 billion rouble forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

It also boosted operating income before depreciation and amortisation (OIBDA) as a percentage of revenues to 47.8 percent - its best result in two years - from 40.6 percent a year ago.

HEALTHY COMPETITION

MegaFon, which raised $1.7 billion in its November flotation in London and Moscow, also raised its full-year guidance for that margin to 42.5-44.0 percent from 41.6-43.0 percent, while keeping its high single-digit revenue growth forecast.

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Vimpelcom, part of tycoon Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, increased its margin to 42 percent in the first quarter from 41.1 percent the year earlier, versus a 41.8 percent forecast.

"We have very healthy competition in Russia, you see it in churn numbers, in prices coming down, in willingness to invest in data networks," Jo Lunder, the chief executive officer of Vimpelcom, told Reuters by telephone.

"There has been a gradual movement to focusing on cashflows and profitability, and I think it is good for the market and for customers as it means that operators will have cashflow to reinvest," said Lunder.

Unlike many European peers, Russian mobile firms are still growing revenues thanks mainly to the increasing use of smartphones which leads to more internet traffic on mobile networks.

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Elsewhere in Europe, telecoms firms are struggling with an overcrowded market, regulations and recession.

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Russian companies are building out data-centred 4G networks after the distribution of LTE (Long Term Evolution) licences last summer. But they are also returning excess cash to shareholders, offering comparable dividend yields.

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MegaFon on Wednesday announced a long-expected dividend, set at 64.51 roubles per share, or a total of 40 billion roubles, for 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.

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Breaking down the figure gives a 2012 payout of 54.17 roubles, implying a 5.2 percent yield, while including the 10.34 roubles payable on first-quarter results, the yield would rise to 6.2 percent.

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Vimpelcom's dividend yield stands at 7.1 percent based on the 2012 payout, but taking into account a special, one-off dividend of nearly the same size, the yield comes to 14 percent.

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MTS' stock offers a dividend yield of 5.6 percent based on the payout of 30.2 billion roubles for 2012. The company also intends to pay an additional dividend in the autumn worth around 11 billion roubles.

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BRIEF-Pamplona says buys U.S.-based Coinmach, AIR-serv

Pamplona: * Coinmach Service Corp and Air-Serv acquired by Pamplona Capital Management

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for $1.4 billion. * Pamplona Capital-deal was financed by a $795 million first lien term loan, as

well as a $325 million second lien term loan

Kaynye 'New Slaves': Kanye West debuts single New Slaves

Kaynye 'New Slaves': In true Kanye West form, the rapper debuts his new song in the most over-the-top way. On May 17, Slate reported that Kanye West will debut his new single "New Slaves" by projecting the video on the side of buildings.

Kanye tweeted to his fans, "NEW SONG AND VISUAL FROM MY NEW ALBUM BEING PROJECTED TONIGHT ACROSS THE GLOBE ON 66 BUILDINGS, LOCATIONS @http://KANYEWEST.COM."

The song and video are being projected onto the side of buildings in ten cities worldwide. Those cities are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Sydney, Paris, London and Berlin. The single "New Slaves" is being projected onto 66 separate buildings, with multiple buildings in each city.

This comes just on the heels of his epic rant in which he declared that he is not a celebrity. It is unclear then, why he is projecting his face on the side of city buildings. You can see him Saturday night as he joins host Ben Affleck as the music guest for SNL's season finale.