Vivendi Jumps as Streaming Boosts Music Business Before Sale

(Bloomberg) -- Vivendi SA said it will select financial advisers in the coming weeks to help with a partial sale of Universal Music Group, where surging streaming income propelled the parent company’s profits higher last year.

Vivendi shares jumped to their highest in over a year after results late Thursday showed Universal Music’s streaming income continued to defy expectations and the Paris-based media conglomerate said it would buy back as much as a quarter of its stock.

Other Vivendi businesses such as advertising and pay-television fared less well as they contend with competitive threats from digital rivals. Vivendi said it also wrote off more than 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) from its investment in indebted carrier Telecom Italia SpA.

The mixed performance came as billionaire Vincent Bollore prepares to step back further from day-to-day oversight of his sprawling business empire. Vivendi said Bollore will leave the supervisory board in April and be replaced by his third son, Cyrille, who heads the family’s transport and logistics business. Last year, Bollore handed the chairmanship of Vivendi to his second son, Yannick.

Mixed Fortunes

Vivendi shares were up 5.7 percent at 24.02 euros as of 10:13 a.m. in Paris, propelled further by the plan, announced alongside Thursday’s results, to buy back and cancel stock at a maximum price of 25 euros. Shares in Bollore family holding company Bollore SA, Vivendi’s biggest shareholder, rose 3.6 percent.

Vivendi’s full-year earnings before interest, tax and amortization rose 25 percent on a constant-currency basis to 1.29 billion euros. Analysts had predicted 1.31 billion euros.

Universal’s blow-out growth has made up for a weaker performance in the company’s other units such as advertising arm Havas and pay-TV division Canal+. While music sales rose 10 percent at constant currencies in 2018, pay-TV revenue fell 0.3 percent, the company said in its results statement.

Universal Music revenue was boosted by soundtracks to ‘Black Panther,’ ‘A Star Is Born’ and Freddy Mercury biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and releases from Andrea Bocelli and XXXTentacion.

The world’s biggest music group is worth around 23 billion euros, according to the average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg last month. Vivendi did not say when the sale of as much as 50 percent of Universal Music would conclude, an omission that could frustrate investors hoping for a speedy deal.

“Vivendi says that there is no fixed deadline for concluding the strategic stake sale, having guided to a 12-18 month timeframe last July,” said Jefferies analysts in a note.

Yannick Bollore’s appointment last year occurred days before his father was held by French police in a corruption case relating to operations in Africa. The family holding company said at the time it formally denied that its businesses did anything irregular.

Bollore’s exit has surprised investors because the mogul, then 66, had previously suggested that he would step down at age 70. Vivendi’s Chief Executive Officer Arnaud de Puyfontaine said Vincent Bollore’s departure from the board was a move to prepare the company for the future.

“This is a decision made by Vincent Bollore,” Puyfontaine said in a call with analysts on Thursday. “There is a new generation coming, new blood coming, but the most important thing is that we’ve got the long-term commitment of our No. 1 shareholder.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.