Having relinquished to France Telecom for just twenty-four hours the title of France’s largest ever corporate lossmaker, Vivendi Universal regained its crown last week.

The media giant, now led by ceo Jean-René Fourtou, is still suffering from the group’s Homeric over-expansion by former chairman/ceo Jean-Marie Messier. On Thursday Vivendi unveiled its 2002 results in which goodwill write-downs thrust it deeper into the red ink to €23.3 billion ($25.72bn; £16.01bn).

In a wry reference to the results published a day earlier by France Telecom (a net loss of €20.7bn), Fourtou said: “It's not that I feel in competition with my friend Thierry Breton [France Telecom’s newly inducted ceo] that I announce these results. It’s the mechanical effect of deteriorating markets on the goodwill on our books.”

Vivendi (currently in process of dismemberment with €16bn of assets to be sold by 2004) has already seen net debt fall from €37.1bn to €12.3bn, due mainly to the deconsolidation of €15.7bn of debt in its utilities arm, Vivendi Environnement. It is targeting to drive net debt below €11bn by the end of this year.

Fourtou acknowledged he had recently met Viacom chairman Sumner M Redstone in Los Angeles to discuss Vivendi’s US entertainment assets. But the Frenchman’s lips were zipped as to the future shape of the group, save to comment: “One cannot consider Vivendi Universal to be a coherent business. It is a basket of assets that have little to do with each other.”

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff