Inside Move: Vivendi U kicking assets

Fourtou offloads the offbeat

Orange juice, anyone? How about a small plane, or a gag gift from Spencer Gifts?

On second thought, hold the gags. Vivendi U isn’t much for yukking it up these days as it looks to unload assets maintained under the tenure of ousted topper Jean-Marie Messier.

Indeed, the conglom now finds itself selling off holdings ranging from its sizable publishing ops and some exhib chains to more arcane assets, such as energy holdings in Asia, a Venetian palazzo, famed Paris concert hall the Olympia, the Chateau de Mery and stakes in companies Sunburst, Sithe and Moviso.

And, not without some irony, there’s even Agua Argentinas, a water concern that’s part of Vivendi Universal, not Vivendi Environment.

Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou and finance chief Jacques Espinasse say they’ve singled out 60 assets for sale to raise about 12 billion euros and cut the conglom’s debt burden in the next year and a half.

And while Viv U’s decision to hang on to Universal was no big surprise, the far-flung, arcane assets it does plan to sell — some “at any price” — did raise some eyebrows and a few chuckles at last week’s press conference.

Even Fourtou called some of the holdings “weird” as he flashed a slide illustrating his vision of Viv U before and after sales.

Fourtou mostly blames Messier for the clutter.

“He went to the U.S. because they couldn’t continue to bug him there” about all the acquisitions, Fourtou quipped.

But the new chieftain will exact some measure of satisfaction: As part of the corporate slimming, Viv U will sell off a $17 million Park Avenue townhouse Messier has occupied since his exit. Messier will have to vacate by the end of the year.

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