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Vivendi Universal

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, which has been struggling to climb out of debt, has another month to decide whether to climb back in.

Following a few weeks of relevant legal maneuvering, the Paris-based media and utilities conglomerate said Wednesday it had until Dec. 10 to decide whether it would buy shares giving it a majority stake in the French telephone company Cegetel.

Meanwhile, fellow Cegetel shareholder


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, which is jockeying with Vivendi over control of the French telco, said Wednesday it had renewed its previously spurned offer to Vivendi to purchase Vivendi's stake in Cegetel for 6.77 billion euros.

The situation demonstrates the complicated task faced by Vivendi as it seeks to return to strong financial footing following a debt-fueled spending spree led by former chief Jean-Marie Messier.

New CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou has vowed to sell 12 billion euros worth of assets by the end of 2003 in a plan to ease Vivendi's cash flow difficulties, and getting Vodafone's money for Vivendi's 44% stake in Cegetel would make that job infinitely easier.

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But Fourtou, who has spoken longingly of the cash that Vivendi could extract from Cegetel if it held a majority stake in the telco, isn't rushing to sell.

As Vodafone confirmed Wednesday, Fourtou has until Dec. 10 to decide whether Vivendi would like to outbid Vodafone's offer for the stakes in Cegetel held by either or both of two other shareholders in the telco:

SBC Communications



BT Group


. That would mean spending 4 billion euros for BT's stake or about 2.6 billion euros for SBC's in order to get majority control of Cegetel.

It's also possible that Vivendi's moves toward buying rather than selling are a negotiating ploy to get a higher price from Vodafone for its stake. But Vodafone reiterated its position Wednesday that its original offer represents "a full and fair price" for Vivendi's holdings.

To bolster its own contention that Cegetel is more valuable than Vodafone's offer implies, Vivendi this week released financial forecasts for Cegetel. For 2001 through 2004, Cegetel is forecasting compound annual revenue growth above 10%, operating income growth of more than 30% and growth in operating free cash flow -- after tax and financing costs -- of 6%.

Confident in Vivendi's prospects whether it sells its Cegetel shares or buys more, investors sent Vivendi's stock up 35 cents to trade at $13.50 Wednesday. Shares are still down 77% from their 52-week high.