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Vivendi Takes M&A Pause to Decide How to Spend $14 Bln

An illuminated logo sits on display outside an SFR store, a mobile-phone unit of Vivendi SA, near a street cafe in Paris. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg
An illuminated logo sits on display outside an SFR store, a mobile-phone unit of Vivendi SA, near a street cafe in Paris. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Vivendi SA, debating how to spend what remains of the $14 billion from asset sales after cutting debt, is done with big acquisitions for now as the board favors returning surplus cash to investors in the next six months.

Share buybacks and dividends are options being studied by the board, Chief Finance Officer Philippe Capron said at an investor conference in Barcelona yesterday. Last month, Vivendi sold a stake in Activision Blizzard Inc. for $8.2 billion. It will get another $5.7 billion when it completes the disposal of the Maroc Telecom SA division next year.

“Acquisitions aren’t part of our priorities for now,” said the 55-year-old, who will join water company Veolia Environnement SA in January, in an interview.

As Vivendi moves toward a promised separate listing for the SFR French wireless unit in the first half of 2014, the Paris-based company is nearing the end of a two-year restructuring. Returning cash to shareholders would be a parting gift from executives including Capron, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Francois Dubos and Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou, all due to step down.

“A CEO has to be recruited very quickly so he can in the spring also be on the road selling the equity story of the new Vivendi,” Capron said. Vivendi is also seeking a replacement for himself, he said.

Vivendi has scaled back since former CEO Jean-Marie Messier nearly bankrupted the company with a $77 billion acquisition spree before he was ousted in 2002.

‘Significant Headroom’

The recent asset sales which allow the company, whose remaining assets include Universal Music Group and pay-TV provider Canal Plus, to pare its debt to about 7 billion euros ($9.4 billion) from 13.4 billion euros at the end of last year.

Asked whether Vivendi is seeking acquisitions in the digital space as part if its media strategy, Capron said: “No.” Vivendi will focus on growing Brazilian Internet provider GVT without takeovers and has no plan to add mobile services to its offering, Capron said during the conference organized by Morgan Stanley.

“Once Vivendi has the cash from Maroc Telecom, it will be left with very significant headroom,” Capron said.

Vivendi has promised to complete a split of its businesses by its annual general meeting, due to take place in the spring of 2014. Vivendi first announced its intention to study a revamp of its company structure in 2012, when its stock was trading at a nine-year low.

Media Focus

Jean-Bernard Levy, CEO at the time, was removed in June the same year and Fourtou retook oversight of the company. The shares have gained 9.4 percent this year through yesterday.

Today, they rose 0.9 percent to 18.70 euros at 9:08 a.m. in Paris, giving Vivendi a market value of 25 billion euros.

With SFR split off, Vivendi plans to assemble Universal Music Group, Canal Plus, and GVT into a new media company with a tighter focus, allowing it to aim for a valuation comparable to large U.S. media companies, or about 10 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, Capron said.

Vivendi’s UMG, Canal Plus and GVT units are valued by analysts at between three and six times Ebitda, Capron said.

“I’m not saying by magic the value of the company will double through the split, but at least it gives us an ambition of what the group can reach,” Capron said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Marie Mawad in Barcelona at mmawad1@bloomberg.net; Amy Thomson in Barcelona at athomson6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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