Ackman Music Deal Spurs Pushback From Vivendi Shareholder

Vivendi SE shareholder Artisan Partners is opposing the company’s plan to sell bits of its prized asset, Universal Music Group, including a proposed deal with a blank-check firm backed by billionaire Bill Ackman.

The move adds pressure on Vincent Bollore’s French media group before shareholders are set to meet on June 22 to vote on a plan to spin off 60% of the world’s biggest music company.

“Selling off pieces of UMG to other investors in return for cash is a sub-optimal capital allocation decision,” Artisan portfolio manager David Samra said in a statement to Bloomberg. “We would prefer that Vivendi spin off its entire ownership of UMG to the shareholders in a tax efficient manner.”

Artisan also called the plan to distribute UMG shares to Vivendi stockholders tax inefficient, echoing objections from activist investor Bluebell Capital Partners, which has asked France’s financial market regulator to investigate the spinoff plan.

“Placing a tax burden on the shareholders of Vivendi through the de-merger process is unattractive. We believe management should find a tax friendly solution,” Samra added.

Vivendi disclosed its talks to sell 10% of UMG to Pershing Square Tontine Holdings Ltd. on June 4. The transaction would value the home of Taylor Swift, Drake and Billie Eilish at 35 billion euros ($42.6 billion) including debt, above the 30 billion-euro valuation ascribed to the business in 2019 when China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. acquired a stake.

The proposed deal confused some analysts and investors when it was announced, sending the blank-check company to its worst stock decline since September. Investor service Glass Lewis has recommended that shareholders support the spinoff but said Bluebell’s call for a higher dividend is “reasonable.”

“Vivendi listens to all shareholders, including the small and smallest ones,” a Vivendi spokesman said in response to Artisan’s statement. A representative for Pershing declined to comment.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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