PARIS — François Pinault, the French billionaire who controls PPR and Gucci Group, on Tuesday said he had yet to decide whether to make a play for France’s Suez utilities business.

In a terse statement, Pinault said, “No decision concerning an eventual offer for Suez has been taken and all options remain open.”

Pinault was pressured to clarify his position vis-à-vis Suez by French stock market authorities after rampant rumors sent the firm’s stock soaring. The noncommittal tone of Pinault’s statement, though, appeared to do little to calm the market. Suez’s stock gained as much as 3 percent in trading Tuesday.

Pinault, who made his fortune in lumber, has been focusing PPR on luxury. Last year, for example, he sold the Printemps department store chain to a group of investors led by Rinascente chairman Maurizio Borletti.

An eventual Pinault bid for Suez, whose market value is some 48 billion euros, or $66.19 billion at current exchange, would likely come independently of PPR via the businessman’s Artemis investment firm. Pinault controls PPR through Artemis, as well as businesses such as the Christie’s auction house and the Château Latour winery.

Pinault already had his eye on Suez once last year in an operation with Italian utilities giant Enel. Another run at the company would appear tricky since Suez is in the middle of a government-backed merger with Gaz de France. When French President Jacques Chirac learned Pinault was aiming to buy Suez with Enel, he was said to be furious. (Pinault and Chirac are known to be friends.)

Nonetheless, the Suez-Gaz de France deal has been weakened recently by political fighting. A court decision to postpone the merger until after presidential elections this spring has left Suez vulnerable to another hostile bid.

This story first appeared in the January 3, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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