Acquisitions vitalize Vivendi, offset quarterly loss

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Vivendi was one of the few media firms to buck 2008's steep economic downturn, claiming a 17.2% jump in annual revenue and an improvement in its most widely followed profitability measure, even though the media and telecom giant posted a fourth-quarter loss on the back of a big writedown in the value of its NBC Universal stake.

Vivendi posted a loss of $1.73 billion for the final quarter of 2008 as it wrote down its 20% stake in NBC Uni by $1.9 billion. GE owns the other 80%. Adjusted for special items, quarterly profit rose 12% to €656 million ($826 million). For the year-ago period, Vivendi had recorded a profit of €521 million, or €585 million on an adjusted basis. Revenue for the quarter rose 26.6%.

For the year, Vivendi saw a 4.9% rise in earnings before interest, taxes and amortization, reaching $6.23 billion, and a 7.7% increase in its dividend to $1.76 a share. Revenue jumped to €25.4 billion, helped by acquisitions.

Vivendi's strong 2008 performance was fueled by the group's acquisition of Gallic telecom Neuf Cegetel and video game company Activision.

CEO Jean-Bernard Levy expects his company's strong video game division, now dubbed Activision Blizzard, to help 2009 EBITA surpass 2008 levels. Lower restructuring costs all around also will be a factor. Activision Blizzard boasts four of the 10 best- selling games worldwide, including "Guitar Hero" and "World of Warcraft."

EBITA at Universal Music Group fell 6.6% during the fourth quarter and rose 11% for the year, assuming constant currency rates.

On the same basis, pay TV group Canal Plus saw a 53.6% increase during the quarter and a 41.3% gain for the year.

Income from Vivendi's equity affiliates, however, fell from €373 million in 2007 to €260 million ($327.3 million) in 2008. The group's share of income earned by NBC Uni fell $58 million to $321 million because of the drop in NBC Uni's performance and the ongoing decline of the U.S. dollar. (partialdiff)
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