Vivendi Stock Drops Amid Lack of Asset Sales News

1:58 AM PST 02/26/2013 by Georg Szalai

UPDATED: An analyst says that a $1.24 billion financial reserve for a recent legal judgment against the company also provided a drag on the stock.

The stock of French entertainment and telecom conglomerate Vivendi dropped in Tuesday trading after the company failed to provide a major update on possible telecom asset sales.

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The company's full-year 2012 results slightly exceeded expectations, but analysts said investors had hoped for potential disposal news. Vivendi also said it took a $1.24 billion financial reserve for a recent legal judgment against the company in litigation with John Malone's Liberty Media.

In early trading, the stock was down 3 percent, before it narrowed the losses to finish down 1.8 percent at $20.45 (€15.67) amid a broader European market decline.

STORY: Vivendi Content Strategy, Asset Sales Decisions to Come Into Focus in 2013

"No new info on disposals and accruing a reserve for the full amount of the judgment (€945 million) ... are likely to dampen enthusiasm for the 2012 beat," said Jefferies analyst Will Smith. He estimated that the reserve put a drag of 65 cents (€0.50) on Vivendi's stock.

But the analyst reiterated his "buy" rating and $24.84 (€19) price target on Vivendi's stock. Some observers on Tuesday said that a deliberate approach to the sales process would ensure that Vivendi would avoid a fire sale.

CEO Jean-Francois Dubos didn't provide an update on the company's review of its current assets, with observers having suggested a sale of Brazilian broadband unit GVT or Vivendi's 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom would be the initial focus. Financial firms and satellite TV giant DirecTV have been bidding for GVT, while financial players and telecom firms have eyed Maroc Telecom.

"Our ongoing strategic review will define precisely, and as and when appropriate, the right paths to increase the group’s overall value and to best serve shareholder interests," Dubos said in a statement. But he also emphasized "Vivendi’s desire to strengthen its positions in media and content where Vivendi has all the assets needed to assert itself as a European-born, global leader."

UBS analyst Polo Tang had said before Tuesday's earnings conference call: "The results themselves provide little incremental surprise and, unless we get some color on the disposal process during the call, investors might be disappointed."

On the call, CFO Philippe Capron said that the company's strategic review continues. "Our determination to increase the group's value for our shareholders remains intact, but nothing will be announced today," he said before emphasizing that the firm is determined to avoid fire sales. "We don't feel obliged to conclude if the price isn't right," he said.

During a conference at the group’s Paris headquarters, CEO Dubos cited Vivendi's current strength in the video game market and growth in its music division, saying the company is looking to become a “worldwide content leader.”  “We have strong brands and unique know-how in these areas,” he said. He also emphasized that the company is focusing on growth in China, developing distribution platforms for games in the territory and citing Call of Duty’s push there.  “If we are successful we will have the number one game in China.” 

Tang on Monday had upgraded his rating from "sell" to "neutral" and his price target on Vivendi, citing the stock's underperformance this year.

"Vivendi shares have significantly underperformed and fallen 10 percent year-to-date in absolute terms and underperformed the [broader markets] in relative terms by 13 percent," he wrote in a report. "The radical break-up of Vivendi that investors were hoping for has not materialized, 2013 consensus earnings estimates have drifted down ... Although our concerns remain, the underperformance of Vivendi suggests these factors may be largely priced in."

Georg Szalai reported from London. Rhonda Richford reported from Paris.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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