By Inti Landauro and Gwladys Fouche
PARIS/OSLO (Reuters) - Euronext NV has secured the backing of a majority of shareholders in Norway's Oslo Bors which it aims to buy, the European exchanges operator said on Friday, while the target firm's CEO said it would explore alternatives to the deal.
Euronext, which operates bourses in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon and Dublin, has offered to buy Oslo Bors for 625 million euros ($716 million).
It said shareholders representing 50.6 percent of the capital of Oslo Bors had agreed to sell their shares ahead of a tender offer which Paris-listed Euronext plans to launch in the coming weeks.
However, holding company Oslo Bors VPS took issue with how Euronext had gone about its approach and said it would arrange a meeting with Euronext in early January and had hired brokerage Arctic Securities as adviser.
"We are open to speak to other parties also in addition to Euronext ... We want to have a wider process on behalf of shareholders, to have the best price for the share," Oslo Bors VPS CEO Bente Landsnes told Reuters.
She said Euronext's offer came as a surprise. "We did not know it was coming. We were notified last weekend that Euronext was to bid," she said in an interview.
"We have been told that it was an auction called a compact auction. We don't know who participated. As far as we know Euronext came with the best offer," she said.
She added that, after the auction, "more than one strategic party" approached Oslo Bors VPS to say that they had not been invited. She did not name them.
"Exceeding the 50 percent of total outstanding shares threshold shows the interest from Oslo Bors VPS shareholders ... satisfying one of the conditions required for its completion and strengthening Euronext's confidence on its successful outcome," Euronext said in a statement.
Euronext owns a 5.1 percent stake in Oslo Bors. Owning more than 10 percent would require approval from the Norwegian government, which may hinge on the contents of Euronext's upcoming offer document.
While some Norwegian opposition politicians have been sceptical about the deal, a junior government minister struck a conciliatory note on Friday.
"This could result in even better, cheaper services for Norwegian investors via increased investment in new technology. It'll be interesting to see what the (Oslo Bors) board says," Svein Flaatten told business daily Finansavisen.
The Norwegian finance ministry said it would take a position on the issue only after it has received an offer. "We don't know when, or if, we will receive an offer," said a ministry spokeswoman.
"Both Euronext and Oslo Bors have informed us about the situation. The FSA has no comments at this stage," said Anne Merethe Bellamy, deputy director general of capital markets supervision at the Norwegian Financial Supervisory Authority.
Euronext is looking to expand its pan-European portfolio but opportunities are scarce as operators either already belong to groups such as the London Stock Exchange or Nasdaq Inc or because their shareholders want to remain independent.
($1 = 0.8726 euros)
(Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo; editing by Susan Fenton and Jason Neely)