shares rose sharply Thursday on reports of an unsolicited bid for its entertainment businesses, though a deal appears unlikely for now.
Marvin Davis, the former owner of 20th Century Fox and someone inevitably referred to as "billionaire oilman Marvin Davis," has approached Vivendi in an effort to buy its Universal Studios, Universal Music Group and other entertainment assets, according to
The Wall Street Journal
But the possible deal, said to be worth at least $15 billion, seems likely to encounter friction, if not rejection, from Barry Diller, chairman of the Vivendi unit that operates Universal's movie studios and television business. A source at Vivendi said the company had already rejected the offer as inadequate, according to a
Shares in Vivendi were trading at $13.77 Thursday morning, up $2.05, or 17.5%. Despite the leap, Vivendi's shares are still down more than 75% from their 52-week highs.
It's up for debate whether Davis' offer -- which isn't yet completely funded, says the
-- is a dollar short. But if Davis had hoped to get a good price by flashing a wad of cash under the nose of a motivated seller, he's certainly a day late.
Though Vivendi Universal faced a cash crunch earlier this year, thanks to the acquisition spree led by former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier, nearly two months have passed since Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou
declared Vivendi's cash flow crisis officially over.
Over the past few months, Fourtou has focused on cutting Vivendi's debt by unloading assets including many of the purchases initiated by Messier. After announcing his intention to sell 10 billion euros' worth of assets over the next two years, Fourtou jacked up the pace in late September by saying Vivendi would sell 12 billion euros' worth by the end of 2003.
The latest movement on that front, according to reports emanating from France, is Vivendi's sale of part of its remaining stake in the French utility company Vivendi Environnement.
Davis and Diller worked together back in the 1980s, when Davis hired Diller to run 20th Century Fox under terms that, according to contemporary press accounts, gave Diller a notable amount of independence. The two parted ways when Davis sold his remaining stake in Fox to
Rupert Murdoch at a time when Diller and Murdoch wanted to expand into television, but Davis didn't.
Although Diller also serves as chair of e-commerce company
, it seems unlikely that he would walk away from Vivendi's entertainment business in favor of Davis. Diller and USAI own a minority stake in the Vivendi entertainment subsidiary Vivendi Universal Entertainment.