Vivendi Debt Shrinks as Talk of US Asset Sale Resumes

21 January 2003

The wide-ranging sale of Vivendi Universal’s assets since the ousting last summer of former boss Jean-Marie Messier is having the desired effect: the media mammoth’s debt more than halved in the final six months of 2002.

In a statement last week, the group revealed its net book debt tumbled from €35 billion ($37.3bn; £23.2bn) in June to €13bn at the end of the year.

Hoping to raise a total of €16bn through offloading assets, Vivendi agreed disposals worth €8.23bn by December 31. Of these, deals worth €6.83bn have already been closed, while the sales of Italian pay-TV unit Telepiù (to News Corporation), Canal Plus Technologies (to Thomson) and newspaper operations Express-Expansion and Comareg (to Socpresse) are yet to be finalised.

The next sale, however, could make these disposals look like small fry, as US billionaire Marvin Davis prepares a new offer for Vivendi’s American entertainment units.

In November, Davis launched a surprise $20bn bid for the assets, which include Universal Pictures, Universal Music, theme parks and cable-TV networks [WAMN: 22-Nov-02]. Vivendi dismissed that offer as too low but did not reject the idea of a sale.

Since then, the media mammoth has confirmed it will demerge the units (which are managed by media mogul Barry Diller), planning either to sell them outright or to give them a separate stock market listing and float a sizeable chunk [WAMN: 05-Dec-02].

Davis is scheduled to meet Vivendi executives later in January. However, he may have competition, with reports that groups such as Liberty Media, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and General Electric-owned NBC are mulling bids.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff