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Vivendi fills war chest for Cegetel battle

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

French media giant Vivendi Universal SA has signed a 1bn euro ($1bn) loan with its banks, in a clear sign to the market that it is ready to enter a bidding war with Vodafone Group Plc for control of French telecom operator Cegetel SA.

The new financing, added to recent asset sales, should give the Paris-based conglomerate enough cash to pay BT Group Plc $3.92bn for its 26% Cegetel stake, which would leave Vivendi with a controlling stake in Cegetel and its prize asset, mobile operator SFR SA. BT had already agreed to sell its stake to Vodafone, but Vivendi has "pre-emption" rights that give it until December 10 to raise enough cash for a counter bid.

Chief executive officer Jean-Rene Fortou has stated that no decision has yet been made on whether to launch a counter bid, but Vivendi's disappointing third-quarter results in which it reported a 28.5% increase in its net loss for the quarter, means it has little choice but to try to hang on to its Cegetel cash cow, which accounted for 37% of operating profit in its most recent quarter.

Vivendi has been involved in a series of asset disposals including its publishing businesses, and most recently, half of its $4.06bn holding in Vivendi Environnement SA. It is estimated that it has managed to raise in the region of $5bn through asset disposals, but the company is also battling with crippling debts of $18.6bn.

Last week, Vivendi rebuffed a $15bn bid for its US entertainment assets from a group of investors led by US oil billionaire Marvin Davis. At the time, it said the offer was too low, but has now said that it would look at any offers for entertainment assets, most likely to be in the $20bn to $25bn price range.

Meanwhile, Vodafone chief executive Christopher Gent reiterated that the Newbury, UK-based mobile operator has no plans to launch a bid for the whole of Vivendi. He was responding to reports that suggested Vodafone was considering a bid for the whole of the French media giant to gain control of Cegetel.

Vivendi unveiled its third quarter results yesterday. Overall revenues at Vivendi Universal were stable at 14.6bn euros ($14.5bn) in the three months to September 30. Total operating profits were up 25% to 1.2bn euros ($1.2bn). The company's net loss was 1.2bn euros ($1.2bn), compared to a 960m euros ($953m) loss a year ago. Cegetel showed revenues of 1.8bn euros ($1.79bn), up 9% on the year. Maroc Telecom's revenues were up 18% to 399m euros ($396m). Cegetel's operating profit was up 64% to 460m euros ($457m), while Maroc Telecom had profits of 111m euros ($110m), an 18% rise.

© ComputerWire

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