Vivendi strengthens defences to see off Vodafone bid for SFR

Liz Vaughan-Adams
Saturday 18 January 2014 05:51
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The mobile phone operator Vodafone's attempt to seize control of the French mobile phone company SFR looked in danger yesterday after speculation mounted that controlling shareholder Vivendi Universal would resist such a move.

The troubled French media group Vivendi is expected to tell investors at next Wednesday's key strategy update that it should maintain, or possibly increase, its exposure to its French telecoms businesses.

Vodafone, which controls 32 per cent of SFR through a 20 per cent direct stake and a 15 per cent share in its parent firm Cegetel, has made no secret of its desire to win the business. But while the UK company is thought to have tabled an €8bn (£5bn) offer for the shares it does not own in Cegetel, the telecoms company that owns 80 per cent of SFR, Sir Christopher Gent, Vodafone's chief executive, recently rated the company's chances of pulling a deal off as "50:50".

Next week's strategy presentation from Jean-Rene Fourtou, Vivendi's chief executive, is expected to reinforce the company's commitment to its telecoms operations.

Mr Fourtou is thought to be preparing to announce the sale of the company's 40.8 per cent stake in the water company Vivendi Environnement. Mr Fourtou told unions he hoped to sell the shares by December, according to a Bloomberg report.

Separately, Vivendi said yesterday it had reached agreement with banks on a €3bn loan facility, replacing a €1bn short-term facility agreed in July and giving it more breathing space to attack its €20bn debt pile. Vivendi also said yesterday that Philippe Germond, its deputy chief operating officer, would be leaving at the end of the year to join Alcatel as chief operating officer. Mr Germond is also chairman and chief executive of Cegetel.

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