Vivendi Universal (VU) says it's taking a step forward on its debt reduction process, not two steps back.
The media and entertainment conglomerate, in the midst of reversing the acquisition strategy led by former CEO Jean-Marie Messier, said Wednesday that it had reached an agreement to sell its European and Latin American publishing operations.
Separately, the Paris-based multinational said that, despite market rumors to the contrary, it has no intention of issuing debt convertible into shares of its utility subsidiary as part of any bid to increase its stake in the French telco
reported Wednesday morning that a Parisian prosecutor is likely to open a judicial probe of certain public statements made by Vivendi during Messier's tenure.
Shares in Vivendi, down 77% from 52-week highs, opened lower Wednesday, then weakened further. The stock was down $1.32 Wednesday morning, or 10%, to $11.85.
Vivendi says it plans to sell its publishing operations, excluding the recently acquired Houghton Mifflin, to
. The Lagardere-destined units will have an enterprise value of 1.25 billion euros, says Vivendi. It's not immediately clear how much of that figure will comprise debt to be assumed by the buyer.
In an effort to round up more potential buyers for Houghton Mifflin, Vivendi says it will re-auction the company unless it receives a suitably high pre-emptive bid by Friday. The company purchased
the publisher of Curious George only last year.
Meanwhile, Vivendi has been mum about its intentions toward Cegetel, in which it owns a minority stake along with
In an effort to gain majority control, Vodafone last week made a 6.3 billion euro offer for BT's and SBC's stakes, and a 6.8 billion euro offer for Vivendi's stake. Vivendi, however, has the right to match Vodafone's offer for the BT and SBC shares in Cegetel. Vivendi hasn't yet indicated whether it will be a buyer or seller of Cegetel stock.
Vivendi's new CEO, Jean-Rene Fourtou,
said last month he intended to sell off 12 billion euros worth of assets by the end of 2003.