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Vivendi Universal

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reported improved operating income for the third quarter, nudging its shares up slightly in an otherwise down day for Big Media.

While the Paris-based media and telecom conglomerate reported woeful results at its Universal Music Group and declining revenue overall, Vivendi Universal reported improved bottom-line results at its Canal Plus group.

On a day when


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News Corp.

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all suffered single-digit percentage declines, Vivendi Universal's shares rose 31 cents, or 2%, to trade at $15.01.

Vivendi's results are apparently the latest bit of reassurance to investors wondering whether the conglomerate -- which stumbled earlier this year under the debt load amassed by acquisition-hungry former chief Jean-Marie Messier -- is able to put its prior cash crunches behind it. Shares in Vivendi, down more than 70% from their 52-week highs, have risen 35% over the past week.

For the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Vivendi Universal reported revenue of 7.4 billion euros, excluding results from its utilities subsidiary Vivendi Environnement, in which Vivendi Universal is reducing its stake.

Sans Vivendi Environnement, revenue declined 4% from the pro forma figure for the third quarter of 2001. The company's relatively small telecom business was the biggest revenue gainer. Music revenue declined 9%, reflecting primarily the strength of the euro against the U.S. dollar, while the company's share of current U.S. albums grew to nearly a third of the market.

Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the parent company of Vivendi's U.S. film and TV business and its theme parks, reported a 24% revenue decline, citing fewer theatrical releases than last year and lower theme park attendance.

Excluding Vivendi Environnement, Vivendi Universal reported an improvement in operating income of 14% to 875 million euros on a pro forma basis. Canal Plus swung from a 198 million-euro loss in the third quarter of 2001 to 40 million euros in operating income in the September quarter of 2002, with the comparison benefiting from one-time charges of 130 million euros in 2001. Operating income fell 89% in the music business because of higher provisions for returns and increased artists and repertoire costs. Vivendi Universal Entertainment's operating income declined 30%, again because of fewer theatrical releases.

Still unresolved is the fate of French telecom firm Cegetel, in which Vivendi Universal owns a minority stake, and for majority ownership of which Vivendi is battling fellow minority shareholder


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. On Tuesday,


reported that a Vodafone spokesman shot down a report in


that Vodafone was considering a purchase of Vivendi Universal to get its hands on Cegetel.

Meanwhile, Vivendi Chief Operating Officer Jacques Espinasse told analysts Tuesday that the company had the resources to pre-empt Vodafone's takeover bid for Cegetel, but that Vivendi's board had not yet made any decision to move forward.