Vivendi to Sell €10bn of Assets Including Houghton Mifflin

16 August 2002

Vivendi Universal, reeling under a staggering €35 billion ($34.21bn; £22.33bn) debt burden, undertook to sell €10bn of assets over the next twenty-four months. The announcement accompanied the posting by the Franco-American media giant of a first-half net loss totalling €12.3bn.

Investors were not impressed; even less so Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service, both of which downgraded their ratings on Vivendi’s debt. On the Paris Euronext exchange, Vivendi shares plummeted from €11.89 on Wednesday to close Thursday at €10.60; in New York they fell from $11.66 on Wednesday to $10.80 at close of trading Thursday.

One of the first VU properties to go up for auction is Boston-based educational publisher Houghton Mifflin, bought for $1.7bn a year ago by Vivendi’s shopaholic former chairman/ceo Jean-Marie Messier. His successor Jean-René Fourtou also hinted that the group’s 10% stake in US satellite operator EchoStar Communications was among the disposables.

The auction by the world’s second largest media group aims to raise some €5bn within the next nine months – a target treated with skepticism by the debt-rating agencies. S&P voiced doubts it would be sufficient to evade a cash crisis and downed Vivendi to ‘junk’ status; Moody’s, where actions speak louder than words, said nothing and reduced its extant ‘junk’ rating by three points to B1.

Fourtou and his new cfo Jacques Espinasse described the downgrades as “overly pessimistic”. A Panglossian view given that the group currently has access to just €1.6 billion in cash and untapped short-term credit lines – insufficient to last through to Christmas.

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