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EDITIONS
Monday, 19 August, 2002, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Vivendi seeks to soothe debt fears
Jean-Rene Fourtou
Vivendi's new boss is trying to calm investors
Shares in Vivendi Universal have soared after the French media giant's new boss took the unusual step of issuing an open letter to reassure investors he has a strategy to solve the firm's problems.


...the value of our assets is considerably higher than our debt

Jean-Rene Fourtou
Vivendi chief executive

Vivendi chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou said he had "identified a strategy for getting out of this crisis".

Vivendi's shares fell 45% last week after it unveiled heavy losses for the first half of this year and failed to secure a 3bn euro loan ($2.9bn; 1.9bn) to cover short term debt repayments.

In a letter to staff and shareholders, Mr Fourtou said Vivendi was no longer on the verge of default, had secured a loan of 1bn euros and was negotiating to obtain more credit by the end of September.

New approach

Vivendi's shares closed up more than 22% on Monday at 11.39 euros.

Reports that Vivendi was in talks to sell its half of struggling internet portal Vizzavi to help pay off debt also contributed to the rising share price.

Mr Fourtou was appointed chief executive just seven weeks ago, replacing the flamboyant Jean-Marie Messier, who had built Vivendi from a utilities firm into a media giant but lost boardroom support.

He has committed himself to raising 10bn euros by selling off non-core bits of Vivendi's business to solve its debt problems.

Vivendi last week posted a net loss of 12.3bn euros ($12bn; 7.8bn) for the first half of 2002.

It has debts of about 20bn euros, or 35m euros including those of utilities arm Vivendi Environnement.

'No worries'

Mr Fourtou said he has carried out an analysis of the company which has shown "the value of our assets is considerably higher than our debt".

He added that "with a policy of strict management we can significantly increase the value of the assets we retain".

The main issue confronting the firm is which businesses to sell and how to shape itself for the future in the process.

Mr Fourtou set out several options but did not say which he favours, only that all were possible but "not at the same time".

The choices were to pursue the creation of an international media group or to become a majority shareholder in French mobile phone firm Cegetel.

Thirdly, he said, the group could to return to being a majority shareholder in the utilities business, Vivendi Environnement.

He said Vivendi will press ahead with the sale of its American publishing business, Houghton Mifflin.

However, he said wanted to retain the group's other publishing concerns.

He ruled out selling off stakes in a string of businesses - Vivendi Environnement, Cegetel, Universal Music Group, Vivendi Universal Entertainment (VUE) or on Vivendi's publishing interests outside the United States.

The firm is negotiating with a group of seven banks for a further 2bn euros in credit by the end of September.

See also:

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