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Last Updated:  Thursday, 6 March, 2003, 21:20 GMT
Vivendi posts new record loss
Jean-Rene Fourtou
Mr Fourtou insists sell-offs will steady the firm
French media giant Vivendi Universal has posted the biggest loss in French corporate history after it went 23.3bn euros (15.9bn; $25.5bn) into the red in 2002.

The figures, more than 50% greater than last year's loss, push fellow French megafirm France Telecom into the number two spot, just a day after the phone company posted a net loss of 20.7bn euros.

The loss also far outstrips even the most pessmistic predictions, with analysts' forecasts averaging at about 13.1bn euros and the financial paper Les Echos warning of 21bn euros.

AOL Time Warner: $100bn
Deutsche Telekom: 24.5bn euros
Vivendi Universal: 23.3bn euros
France Telecom: 21bn euros
KPN: 9.5bn euros
Telefonica: 5.57bn euros
But Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou countered some of the gloom by confirming that he remains keen to sell the group's US assets - including Universal Studios, Universal Music and two cable TV channels - to reduce debt.

"2002 has been an extremely difficult year for Vivendi Universal," he told reporters. "2003 will be a year of transition and of financial and economic progress."


Despite a thorough-going programme of selling off assets in 2002, Vivendi still owed its creditors about 12.3bn euros at the end of 2002.

But that figure is less than a third the 37.1bn of debt it was carrying a year earlier.

Selling Universal - possibly to US giant Viacom, whose senior executives Mr Fourtou said he has already met - whether as a single block or through partial disposals, would please investors keen to see the company back on an even keel.

Other suitors include MGM and NBC, although one contender, former oil tycoon Marvin Morris, has threatened to withdraw his $20m bid unless he is promised exclusive talks.

As for the record loss, the main culprit was a goodwill charge of 18.4bn euros, taken for the collapse in the value of its constituent businesses, as well as a loss on portfolio investments of 2.9bn euros.

But the company promised that excluding charges, it will be back in profit in 2003, and pointed to sales for the second half of 2002 - reported in February - which were up 6% to 61bn euros.

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