News Corp. ( NWS) and Vivendi Universal ( V) reported diverging results Wednesday, as the overseas media conglomerates took steps to shake off the yoke of poorly performing investments. As part of a debt-cutting plan to sell 10 billion euros' worth of assets within two years, Vivendi Universal said it was planning to put Houghton Mifflin on the block. The move comes barely a year after Vivendi Universal acquired the educational publishing company for $1.7 billion. Moody's reacted by once more slashing the company's long-term debt ratings. Meanwhile, News Corp., stung by the dwindling value of its investment in interactive TV technology corporation Gemstar-TV Guide International ( GMST), said a writedown of $1.9 billion for the quarter ended June 30 stemmed primarily from a writedown of its Gemstar holdings to market value at quarter-end. Shares in Vivendi plummeted 23.1% Wednesday morning to trade at $11.79, a 52-week low for the Paris-based titan headed, until recently, by French Americanophile Jean-Marie Messier. News Corp.'s shares rose 1.7% to trade at $21.11.
For the second quarter ended June 30, Vivendi Universal reported revenue of 15.5 billion euros on a pro forma basis, up 5% from pro forma figures for the second quarter of 2001. Operating income rose 5% on a pro forma basis to 1.4 billion euros. The net loss for the first half of the year, excluding goodwill amortization and one-time charges, amounted to 12.3 billion euros, or 11.32 euros per share. Excluding an 11 billion euro goodwill impairment charge, goodwill amortization, plus "financial provisions" of 3.4 billion euros, the company reported a net loss of 66 million euros, or 0.06 euros per share, compared to a 0.27 euro gain in the first half of 2001. Vivendi Universal reported its results on the basis of French generally accepted accounting principles, and will release U.S. GAAP results next month. As of June 30, Vivendi Universal reported 35 billion euros in net debt. The company says it hopes to complete half of its planned 10 billion euros in asset sales within the next nine months. Other debt-reduction strategies planned by the company include cutting cash drains -- mainly the non-French activities of the Canal Plus Group, Internet operations and "the huge level of corporate overhead," according to a company statement. Moody's Investors Service, which last month downgraded Vivendi Universal's debt to junk status, took Vivendi Universal's long-term senior debt rating down another three notches Thursday to B1. Moody's cited ongoing liquidity problems and "significant" risks in executing the company's restructuring plans, particularly the goal of selling 5 billion euros' worth of assets within nine months.
News Corp. reported contrasting results for the fourth fiscal quarter ended June 30. The Australia-based company reported revenue of $3.8 billion for the quarter, up 7% from pro forma figures for the corresponding quarter of 2001. Operating income rose 20% on a pro forma basis to $452 million. News Corp. -- the majority owner of Fox Entertainment ( FOX) -- said its filmed entertainment division went from a $3 million operating loss in the fourth fiscal quarter last year to a $75 million operating profit in this year's fourth quarter, thanks to a strong theatrical performance from the movie Ice Age and a strong domestic video performance of Behind Enemy Lines. The Fox Broadcasting Company television network operations suffered from lower primetime ratings and higher programming costs on returning series. Improvements at Fox News Channel and Fox Sports Network were only partly offset by a $30 million fourth-quarter charge related to the bankruptcy filing of Adelphia Communications. Over the past six months, News Corp. says it has seen an improvement in American and international advertising markets.