Vivendi makes €1.2bn quarterly loss but cuts debt

Despite a third-quarter loss, Vivendi Universal claims to be making progress in reducing its massive debt and is finalising its...

Despite a third-quarter loss, Vivendi Universal claims to be making progress in reducing its massive debt and is finalising its plans for France's largest private telecom operator, Groupe Cégétel.

The French conglomerate reported a net loss of €1.23bn (£790m), or €1.13 per share. That compares to a loss of €960m in the same quarter last year.

Vivendi said it was continuing to reduce its debt and expects to raise €7bn by the end of the year through the sale of assets.

In its efforts to reduce debt, Vivendi "will look at any offer for our entertainment assets", said chief financial officer Jacques Espinasse.

Net debt is expected to be €13.9bn by the end of the year, according to Espinasse. Net debt fell in the third quarter to €18.6bn from €18.8bn at the end of June.

"Vivendi's cash crisis is now over," Espinasse said, adding that the company had obtained more than €2bn in new and extended loans and credit. The company is also finalising €1.3bn in debt financing to acquire more shares in Cégétel.

This is the latest indication that Vivendi will not only reject an offer from Vodafone to buy its share of Cégétel, but that it also intends to increase its own stake in the telecom operator.

Vivendi currently owns 44% of Cégétel, which in turn controls mobile operator Société Française du Radiotéléphone (SFR) with an 80% share of the company. Vodafone has been keen to increase its 32% share in SFR, 20% of which it owns directly, with the rest coming from its 15% stake in Cégétel.

BT and SBC Communications have already agreed to sell their individual stakes in the company to Vodafone. Vivendi has until 10 December to accept Vodafone's offer or exercise its option to make a matching offer for the company.

Vivendi could make BT an offer that included €2.7bn of its own cash with another €1.3bn in loans. "This is only a scenario and the board has taken no decision [on Cégétel] yet," Espinasse said.

In the third quarter, Cégétel's operating income increased by 64% to €460m on strong performances in both its mobile and fixed telephone services.

Vivendi's third-quarter operating profit on a pro forma basis was up 25% year-on- year, to €1.2bn compared with €967m in the same period last year.

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