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French fall a little more in love with private equity

France was a Johnny-come-lately to the buyout boom. But now it is playing catch-up. What lies behind its sudden love affair with private equity?

The French private-equity business is on fire. Barely a month goes by without a e1 billion-plus deal. Conglomerate Bouygues has just sold Saur, its water-treatment business, to buyout firms for e1 billion. And luxury goods group Pinault Printemps Redoute recently sold its electronics distributor Rexel to buyout firms for €3.4 billion. PPR's chief executive, Serge Weinberg, has taken the hint – when he announced his resignation a few weeks ago he said he was launching his own private-equity fund.

Outstripping the Germans

Buyout firms spent €18 billion acquiring French companies last year, according to data provider Dealogic. This meant France nearly pipped Germany into second place among Europe's largest private-equity markets. Yet in 2003 the value of French deals was only €6 billion, barely a third of the total in Germany.

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