Vivendi Outlines Lean Future; Plans $12 Billion Assets Sale

By Agence France-Presse The head of Vivendi Universal SA unveiled a fresh strategy for the debt-ridden media group on Sept. 25, announcing plans to sell off 12 billion euros' (US$11.8 billion) worth of assets and assuring investors the company was "leaving the crisis behind." Vivendi Chairman and CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou, under market pressure to define a new course for the world's second-largest media venture, said after a board meeting the sales would be carried out over the next 18 months. "Vivendi Universal's aim is to streamline its consolidation scope. The new Vivendi Universal is an entertainment company focused on the creation of consumer content," the company said in a statement. With the company groaning under a debt load of around 34 billion euros, Fourtou had been widely predicted to take measures aimed at scaling back the scope of Vivendi's activities to focus more closely on media and communication ventures. Fourtou was named in July to replace flamboyant French tycoon Jean-Marie Messier, whose ambitious and costly acquisitions alarmed investors and sent Vivendi's share price tumbling -- down nearly 80% since the start of the year. "We are leaving the crisis behind us. The main sources of loss have been reduced, sold or halted, or are about to be," Fourtou said in a statement. He said that under the planned 12-billion-euro asset sale, Vivendi would get rid of publishing unit Vivendi Universal Publishing. Other assets that could be shed are: the activities of pay-television network Canal Plus outside of France, as well as Canal Plus Technologies; telecoms activities outside of France, notably in Poland, Hungary and Kenya; Internet operations; and French press holdings. Vivendi Universal is, in addition, "continuing to study every possible solution" to the future of Cegetel, its mobile and fixed-line telephone unit. Investor attention prior to the meeting had been riveted on Vivendi Environnement, the water and waste management unit that was Vivendi's original core business before it recast itself as a media group rivaling AOL Time Warner. Vivendi Universal currently holds a 40.8% stake in Vivendi Environnement, which it has pledged to hold until May 2003. In another move announced Wednesday, Vivendi Universal Managing Director Eric Licoys said the group had reached an agreement to sell its Italian pay-TV subsidiary Telepiu to News Corp. Ltd. for 1 billion euros. The sale would help Vivendi Universal shed some 920 million euros in debt. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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