Vivendi Stock Sinks to Four-Year Nadir on Share Liability

02 May 2002

The headaches are coming thick and fast for Jean-Marie Messier. The Vivendi Universal ceo, already under attack on multiple fronts, has now seen his company’s share price sink to its lowest level in four years.

The latest drop of 2.8% (to €35.39) – bringing the total fall in Vivendi’s stock since the start of the year to 42.5% – followed an article in French newspaper La Tribune which highlighted a number of ‘put options’ the group agreed on shares it sold last year to generate cash for executive stock options.

These options allow the buyers to sell the stock back to Vivendi at an agreed price. However, with the media giant’s share price currently in the doldrums, the group faces paying out far more than the equity is actually worth. Vivendi estimates the impact on its balance sheet to be anywhere between €50 million ($45.3m; £31m) and €1.2 billion.

Although the options were listed in an annual report published two weeks ago, many investors were unaware of them until now. Already under pressure to improve performance, Messier is not flavor of the month among shareholders, many of whom called for his resignation at a recent meeting in Paris.

What is more, the Vivendi boss has attracted opprobrium in French media circles after firing the popular head of Canal Plus. And in yet another setback, the group claims the computer voting system at last week’s shareholder meeting was hacked, nullifying the votes and requiring another assembly.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff