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Subject:  The New Vivendi Date:  12/3/2003  3:52 PM
Author:  TMFTwitty Number:  115 of 121

The New Vivendi

By Tom Taulli
December 3, 2003

On the big screen, Vivendi Universal SA (NYSE: V) would be an odd mixture of comedy, drama, tragedy, and horror. Wait a minute, the company isn't even in showbiz anymore. It's in telecom, I think.

Such is the existential life of a French conglomerate. So far, however, these guys have done a tremendous job of turning the company around, as evidenced by yesterday's earnings announcement.

In fact, management indicated that more euros came in the door than flew out; that is, Vivendi earned approximately $157 million.

A joint venture with Vodafone Group (NYSE: VOD) stole the show. Together, the two firms sold 100,000 handsets in a single month; is it any surprise Vivendi saw growth in telecom units Cegetel and Maroc Telecom of Morocco? Pay television unit Canal Plus is another bright spot, while the music division remains a drag.

On the earnings call, management characterized liquidity issues as "way behind us." As evidence, we will no longer be treated to that familiar "liquidity" PowerPoint slide in future presentations. Good riddance.

And while hurdles remain in Vivendi's quest to unload its entertainment assets on the NBC network -- a unit of General Electric (NYSE: GE) -- on the balance, things appear to be proceeding nicely. The deal is slated to close in the middle of next year.

Management warned investors not to extrapolate the third-quarter results into the fourth quarter, but this sounds overly cautious. Remember, the company's stated philosophy is "underpromise and overdeliver" -- a notion completely at odds with its former leader, Jean-Marie Messier.

There's work to be done, but this new-look Vivendi is worth watching.

Tom Taulli is the author of six books on investing, such as Investing in IPOs (Bloomberg Press). You can reach him at
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