Deals wrap: AOL still eying Yahoo deal?

AOL Inc has tapped Bank of America to explore strategic options including a potential Yahoo Inc merger, according to people familiar with the matter. The idea of combining AOL with Yahoo is still considered in an early stage and may not materialize into a deal, the sources said.

“First of all, Yahoo has to be approached and this is nowhere close to that point,” said one of the sources.

China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group, has reportedly been approached by a group of private equity investors to gauge its interest in joining a bid to buy Yahoo. Alibaba is 40 percent held by Yahoo and it was unclear if the bid attempt was part of the AOL deal.

Chevron Corp agreed to buy U.S. natural gas producer Atlas Energy for $3.2 billion, excluding debt, becoming the latest energy giant to break into the lucrative Marcellus shale field. Chevron’s move into the Marcellus follows acquisitions by Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell  earlier this year.

Sanofi Aventis CEO Christopher Viebacher and Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer have exchanged letters over Sanofi’s $18.5 billion hostile takeover bid for Genzyme. M & A Law Prof Blog editor Brian JM Quinn says Viebacher is attempting to assert pressure on his counterpart to do the deal by appealing to Termeer’s “fiduciary duties as a director of a MA (Massachusetts) company.” In related news, the vice chairman of investment advisory firm Peter J. Solomon, Frederick Frank, said “Genzyme is history.”

DealZone Daily

Motorola is in the early stages of looking into a potential sale of its $4.5 billion television set-top box and network equipment business, two sources tell Reuters. Suitors will include private equity firms and other communications equipment makers, one of the sources says.

In other M&A and capital markets news reported by Reuters and other media on Thursday:

British Airways and Iberia could announce a merger as early as Friday, Sky News reports, citing unidentified sources. Click here for the Reuters story.

Comcast, GE and Kraft await Europe’s pleasure

The defining deals of the week, Kraft’s now officially hostile bid for Cadbury and a deal to sell a majority stake in NBC Universal to Comcast, hinge on decisions of Europe Inc, so they could well drag on many more weeks.

This morning, Kraft formally bid for Cadbury with the same offer mooted two months ago, before today’s put-up-or-shut-up deadline. Cadbury has already said no to these terms, and can be expected to do so again. But the sinking expectations that Kraft might pay more, and the lack of any other buyers coming forward, don’t help to make the case for a successful hold out by Cadbury executives.

Over the weekend we learned that GE and Comcast agreed on a valuation of around $30 billion for a joint venture between NBC Universal and Comcast, ironing out what has been a key obstacle in talks so far. But French media conglomerate Vivendi, which owns 20 percent of NBC Universal, has not yet agreed to a deal, a source said.

DealZone Daily

Poland’s top utility PGE jumped 13 percent at its market debut on the Warsaw bourse today. The IPO, at $2.1 billion, is Europe’s biggest this year.

And IPO flows from Asia continue — South Korea’s No. 2 insurer Korea Life Insurance may raise around $2 billion in the country’s biggest IPO since Lotte Shopping’s $3.8 billion listing in 2006.

For more on deal-related stories from Reuters, click here.

And here’s some picks from the papers:

* Intel, the world’s biggest chip maker, is planning to participate in bids invited by Indian state-owned telecom equipment maker ITI Ltd. to set up joint ventures, the Business Standard reports.

DealZone Daily

General Motors abandons a long-expected sale of Opel, saying it is now keeping its European arm rather than selling it to a group led by Canada’s Magna.

Goldman Sachs has agreed to sell half of its holdings in Shineway Group, China’s top meat processor for $150 million, earning five times its investment from a 2006 deal.

For more on these stories, and all the rest of the latest deal-related news from Reuters, click here.

Deals du Jour

General Electric Co’s (GE.N) Jeffrey Immelt has just come out to say it is holding discussions on partnerships or an IPO for its NBC Universal unit. Sources familiar with the talks have told Reuters that GE and cable operator Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) are discussing a deal.

Mexican brewer FEMSA (FMSAUBD.MX)(FMX.N) has talked with Britain’s SABMiller Plc (SAB.L) and Heineken (HEIN.AS) from the Netherlands about a possible sale of beer operations that could be worth billions of dollars, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Last but not least, the UK Takeover Panel has given Xstrata PLC (XTA.L) a deadline to “put up or shut up” on its proposal to merge with rival miner Anglo American (AAL.L).

Deals du Jour

U.S. network equipment maker Cisco systems offers to buy Norwegian video-conferencing equipment maker Tandberg ASA for $3 billion in cash. The offer price of NOK 153.5 per share represents a premium of 11 percent to Tandberg’s closing price on Wednesday.

Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) says it has acquired privately-held Fovea, a privately-held firm specialised in eye diseases, for up to 370 million euros.

For these stories and more deals-related news from Reuters, click here.

And here’s what we found in Thursday’s papers: 

* ViaSat Inc (VSAT.O), which provides satellite and other wireless networking systems, has agreed to buy Wild Blue Communications Inc for more than $565 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal is a combination of $440 million in cash and $125 million in new Viasat shares. Wild Blue is owned by Liberty Media Corp (LINTA.O).

Deals du Jour

French food group Danone has agreed to sell its 51 percent stake in its joint ventures with China’s Wahaha group, putting an end to legal proceedings related to the disputes between the two. In 2007, Danone accused Wahaha of illegally setting up parallel business outside their ventures. 

McGraw-Hill Cos is leaning toward selling its money-losing BusinessWeek magazine to Bloomberg LP, a person familiar with the matter tells Reuters. Bloomberg Markets, a financial news magazine that produces feature stories, and the 80-year-old BusinessWeek could be blended to make a title that would expand Bloomberg’s presence beyond its financial data clients and reach a mainstream audience.

For more on these stories and the rest of the latest deals news from Reuters, click here .

Deals du Jour

Belgium’s Solvay is selling its drugs unit to U.S. partner Abbott Laboratories for 4.5 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in cash and reinvest in chemicals and plastics. Sources familiar with the deal have earlier told Reuters Abbott had agreed to buy the unit to bloster its flagging prescription drug business.

Australia’s biggest department store chain Myer plans to raise up to $2 billion in a share offering that will test investor appetite for retail stocks.

In M&A news reported by Reuters and elsewhere on Monday: 

* A Saudi prince is set to spend up to 350 million pounds ($558 million) to buy a 50 percent stake in English soccer club Liverpool, al-Riyadh newspaper quoted him as saying on Sunday. 

Own goal?

Standard Chartered bucks the trend of banks making a dash from sports sponsorship deals and will pay $130 million to put its name on Liverpool Football Club’s shirts for four years from next summer. It is one of the most lucrative deals in soccer history.But AIG, Citi, RBS and Northern Rock offer a stark reminder that big sports deals can be high-profile signals of waste. AIG sponsored Manchester United and RBS and ING pumped millions into Formula One, and Northern Rock was better known to millions as the sponsor of Newcastle F.C. than as a mortgage bank — until its collapse.Citi raised anger after sticking with a controversial $400 million deal with baseball team the New York Mets. All those banks needed taxpayer rescue funds.Critics say big sports deals can reflect poor corporate governance and misguided priorities. Advisory firm Advisor Perspectives this year said a study of 69 U.S. sports “naming rights” deals showed the performance of the companies buying the rights trailed the S&P 500 index by almost 5 percent over the course of the deal.But it could be a good fit for StanChart, which gets 80 percent of its profits in Asia. Liverpool is a big, iconic name in Asia and English Premier League games are screened into millions of homes each week. The prize for the bank is not the domestic or European fields where Liverpool has enjoyed regular success, but the potential customers in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and across the region.At least there can be few complaints the bank’s board is following its heart. Former chairman and CEO Mervyn Davies was a staunch Spurs supporter, current CEO Peter Sands is an avid Arsenal fan and Finance Director Richard Meddings may have struggled to find a global reach with a deal with his beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers.