Vivendi Universal ( V) talked tough Tuesday as investors awaited word of a major asset sale.

In an audiocast meeting with investors Tuesday, the Paris-based media conglomerate insisted it held the trump cards as it prepares to dispose of its U.S.-based entertainment businesses.

Chief Financial Officer Jacques Espinasse told investors Vivendi had six potential buyers for its Vivendi Universal Entertainment assets, which include film, television and theme park operations. In addition, he said, the company would not be pressured to sell the property cheaply, and it could do an initial public offering of VUE's shares as an alternative to an asset sale.

"We are not in a corner," Espinasse said. "There is a floor under which we will not go."

Investors -- perhaps hoping that Espinasse had more substantial progress to report on VUE -- sent Vivendi Universal's shares down 44 cents to $20.19.


Without mentioning any names, Espinasse also sought to dismiss speculation that Barry Diller -- a minority shareholder in VUE through personal holdings and also via USA Interactive ( USAI) -- could throw a wrench into any VUE asset sale. "VU is not handicapped in its ability to sell its VUE assets," said Espinasse. "Potential buyers will not be handicapped." Diller has previously insisted that Vivendi Universal can't sell any VUE assets unless it either gets USA's consent or gives USA $2 billion.

Espinasse's comments came as Vivendi Universal reported financial results for the first quarter ended March 31. The company reported a net loss of 319 million euros, less than the 815 million-euro loss it reported for the first quarter of 2002. The company credited its improvement to progress at its telecommunications operations and European television business, as well as companywide cost-cutting. These offset operating results hurt by a weakening U.S. dollar compared to the euro.

Rather than the company's operational results, however, the company's financial restructuring has been the focus of investors' attention over the last months.

After the company was brought to its knees by an acquisition spree led by former CEO Jean-Marie Messier, new chief Jean-Rene Fourtou has occupied himself with averting a cash crunch, reducing debt and restoring Vivendi Universal to a self-sustaining business.

Grabbing Scratch

Vivendi Universal Entertainment's impending sale or IPO -- the company says that bids are due from interested parties next week -- is only one of many pieces Vivendi Universal has been selling over the past year to raise cash and reduce debt.

Through June 13, Vivendi Universal has raised 8.9 billion euros, mostly in cash, from asset sales, putting the company more than halfway into its asset-sale program, Espinasse said. "We are over the top of the mountain and going down now," he said.

Espinasse said that the VUE sale could be complex because the specific circumstances of each of the potential buyers imply different tax implications, different cash proceeds for Vivendi Universal, different regulatory issues and different timing for any transaction.

Yet he also found several ways to insist the company would not be pressured to sell. An IPO, for example, is a "realistic" alternative solution to any sale, said Espinasse.