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Gov’t may buy Gallic funder

The state-controlled financial institution Caisse des Depots has bid to buy Coficine, one of France’s three specialist film and TV production finance companies.

Coficine’s owner, Gallic major UGC, has been trying to sell the company for months, but interested parties that included the Bouygues group, Dutch bank ING, French bank BNP and insurance giant GAN have all looked and walked away.

Caisse des Depots has now offered around 55 million francs ($ 9.3 million) for Coficine and UGC general manager Alain Sussfeld has indicated that a decision whether to sell will be made by the end of the year.

French TV and film producers and the Culture Ministry are backing the Caisse offer. The producers are afraid that if Coficine is not sold it will be merged with fellow TV and film financier Cofiloisirs.

That would leave France with just two specialist audiovisual finance companies, Coficine/Cofiloisirs and Sodete-UFCA. Producers argue that with one less player in the game, the cost of borrowing will increase dramatically.

Cofiloisirs is owned by banks OBC, Paribas and by UGC. According to Sussfeld, UGC did not initially intend to merge Coficine and Cofiloisirs but began to examine such a move when buyers failed to materialize.

Indie producers are anxious to avoid a situation where their film or TV projects passed through the hands of the film major UGC, via the merged companies.

The finance companies have run into troubled times over the past two years. The largest, Sodete-UFCA, has pruned its portfolio, partly due to massive losses at parent Banque Worms and partly due to a shakedown in the TV production industry.

Sodete-UFCA is believed to have nearly $ 200 million in outstanding loans to TV and film producers. In comparison, Cofiloisirs and Coficine’s combined outstanding loans are in the region of $ 127 million.

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