Inside Move: Fourtou ups the ante in game for Cegetel

Is Viv U playing poker with Vodafone?

They were both dealt shaky hands at Vivendi U, but while Jean-Marie Messier folded, his successor Jean-Rene Fourtou looks like a consummate bluffer.

Take his dealings on Cegetel.

Last week, British Telekom, the U.K. phone company that owns a stake in Cegetel along with Viv U and cellular operator Vodafone, said it’s in talks with the latter two about selling its stake in Cegetel.

Just a short while ago Vodafone appeared willing to shell out 8 billion euros for the 85% of Cegetel it doesn’t own.

But Viv U last week rebuffed Vodafone’s latest offer for its 44% stake and now appears interested itself in acquiring BT’s 26% stake. Such a move would allow Viv U to access cash-rich Cegetel’s coffers, but it’s uncertain how the asset fits with the conglom’s ever-evolving strategy.

“I think Fourtou is playing poker,” one buy-side media analyst says.

“Does he really want to buy the Cegetel stake from BT or is he just trying to get Vodafone to up its bid?”

When Fourtou took over debt-ridden Vivendi U, it appeared that his strategy would be to get rid of U.S. entertainment assets and downsize to a French media and utilities holding.

Now, it seems Viv U may hold on to its American media assets, up its 44% stake in Cegetel and sell off its stake in Vivendi Environment.

Just don’t look for Fourtou to show his hand anytime soon.

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