Shares in French energy services company Technip surged on Friday on new reports that Italian oil major ENI could launch a 6-billion euro ($7.8-billion) bid to merge it with its Saipem subsidiary.
Such a merger would create the world's third-biggest oil services company after Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger but some industry analysts were skeptical of such a deal, seeing antitrust and political hurdles in France.
A Technip spokeswoman said the company had no contact with either Italian company, while officials at ENI could not immediately be reached for comment.
Technip gained as much as 14.5 percent before dropping back after it denied any contact between the firms. The shares were up 9.2 percent at 56.50 euros at 1027 GMT, valuing the company at 6 billion euros.
The stock has risen more than 10 percent so far this year, with most gains booked in the past three weeks on persistent speculation of an ENI bid but has underperformed bigger rival Saipem by 19 percent.
Saipem, which is already in French energy services after buying Bouygues Offshore in 2002, traded down 0.97 percent at 18.98 euros. Eni fell 0.53 percent to 24.61 euros.
French newspaper La Tribune said ENI was mulling a bid for Technip and that the bid could be submitted early next week. The paper said ENI may want to merge Technip with Saipem, in which ENI has a 43 percent stake.
Technip and Saipem are involved in building pipelines, petrochemical plants and LNG terminals.
Some analysts are skeptical about a bid, saying Saipem is already busy integrating Snamprogetti, the oil services business it bought from another ENI unit, Snam, earlier this year and that customers might not be happy with a reduction of competition in the already tight oil services market.
"I'm not sure that from an industrial point of view such a deal would make sense because both companies operate in the same fields (contracting for oil and gas industries) and there won't be any great synergies," KBC Securities analyst Antoine Leurent said.
Leurent also saw problems for ENI or Saipem retaining Technip's key personnel amid a severe shortage of qualified engineers and project managers in a booming gas and oil services industry.
It might also face political hurdles in France where the government has been keen to protect "strategic" industries in the energy and utilities sectors.
Other analysts think it could be a good time for Saipem to buy because the industry is seen to be on the upturn in the business cycle and Technip's shares have shown some weakness after experiencing problems delivering on some big projects.
Les Echos said the issue of a possible Saipem bid for Technip would be discussed at a Franco-Italian summit on Friday, where the two countries may debate a possible tie up between airlines Air France KLM and Alitalia.
Asked whether there were fears at Technip of a possible takeover from Saipem, the Technip spokeswoman replied: "That is a purely theoretical question."
Last Friday Technip Chairman and Chief Executive Daniel Valot was cool on a tie-up with Saipem, following earlier speculation. "Personally, it looks to me like a bizarre idea," Valot told Reuters.
The bid speculation has swirled as Valot prepares to retire next April after seven years at the helm of the company and after the company issued two profit warnings earlier this year.
Valot conceded last week that he considered Technip a potential takeover target due to its free float of over 80 percent but said with recent spikes in its share price, the price tag might deter potential bidders.
The oil services industry is currently going through a boom on the back of a resurgence in spending by oil majors on exploration and production, spurred on by high oil prices.
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