Vivendi back to profit as CEO steps down

11th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 10 (AFP) - Vivendi Universal, the French media and telecommunications group, said on Thursday it had returned to profitability and saw a bright picture for 2005, two years after flirting with bankruptcy.

PARIS, March 10 (AFP) - Vivendi Universal, the French media and telecommunications group, said on Thursday it had returned to profitability and saw a bright picture for 2005, two years after flirting with bankruptcy.

Chairman and Chief Executive Jean-Rene Fourtou also announced he would step down in the coming months.

The company reported net profit of EUR 754.0 million (USD 995.3 million) for full-year 2004, after a loss of EUR 1.143 billion in 2003 when the group booked heavy write-downs.

The figure exceeded analysts' expectations of net profit around EUR 516 million.

Net debt at year end-2004 was slashed to EUR 3.135 billion, from EUR 11.565 billion at end-2003.

The adjusted net profit for 2004 was at EUR 1.380 billion compared with EUR 349 million in 2003.

The adjusted figure mainly excludes goodwill amortisation, gains or losses on businesses sold and other non-operating and non-recurring items, the group said.

Vivendi said it expected adjusted net profit over the full-year 2005 would increase by "at least" 20 percent from last year.

It said it would pay shareholders a dividend of EUR 0.60.

"A new era begins for Vivendi Universal," Fourtou said. "For the first time in four years, the company announces positive net income and will, for the first time in three years, distribute a dividend to shareholders."

The Vivendi boss said he would step down in the coming months.

"My mission is accomplished. It took two and a half years to build a solid foundation."

Fourtou took over at Vivendi in July 2002, succeeding the flamboyant Jean-Marie Messier who had brought the group to the brink of ruin following a spree of expensive acquisitions.

Last year, Vivendi improved operating profit to EUR 3.476 billion from EUR 3.309 billion in 2003.

In the fourth quarter, operating earnings on a like-for-like basis more than doubled to EUR 797 million, slightly ahead of consensus, on revenues which rose 7.0 percent at constant currencies to EUR 5.332 billion.

Vivendi, originally a utility company, grew to rank among global media giants following an ill-timed buying spree that crested with the high-tech wave and left the group beached on a debt pile.

In mid-2002, at the height of its crisis, Vivendi carried debt of around EUR 19 billion.

Fourtou, who took the helm of the nearly bankrupt group, refloated Vivendi by concentrating on the group's profitable telecommunications and media activities.

Shares in Vivendi nonetheless fell in Paris trade, after the results were offset by a disappointing dividend payment, dealers said.

Vivendi shares closed down 2.90 percent at EUR 23.44. The CAC-40 index of leading shares was down 0.70 percent overall.

Merrill Lynch welcomed an "overall good set of numbers" but noted the dividend came in well below the consensus estimate at EUR 0.60 compared with the EUR 0.69 expected. Some analysts had even speculated it could reach as high as EUR 0.90.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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