No Viv U bestseller

Bids for publishing biz lower than expected

NEW YORK — Several potential buyers have emerged for Vivendi Universal’s publishing biz, although bids appear significantly lower than the 5 billion euros ($4.89 billion) initially anticipated. Separately, the company is nearing a sale of its Canal Plus Technologies unit to Thomson Multimedia for about $195 million.

The chairman of France’s Natexis Bank, Phillipe Dupont, said Wednesday that Vivendi is likely to receive the $1.95 billion credit line it badly needs for some financial flexibility as it explores strategic options.

“The process now under way should lead to several credit lines being set up… I think that these negotiations will succeed,” Dupont said during a press conference to discuss the bank’s latest financial results.

Vivendi shares jumped 7.46% to $14.05 in Paris. In New York, they were up 2.92%, closing at $13.78. The stock is still well off a 52-week high near $60.

Paribas unit finds partners

A unit of French bank Paribas has reportedly teamed up with U.S. investment firms Blackstone Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners along with Apax Partners of the U.K., offering about $3.4 billion for the educational publishing empire that includes Boston-based Houghton Mifflin and pub houses in France and Europe.

Another group including CVC Capital Partners and Charter House Development Capital is looking for a French partner for a possible bid. Defense and publishing giant Lagardere has resurfaced as a contender.

French politics and sensitivities being what they are, it’s likely that any interested non-French entities would need a local partner.

It’s a tumultuous time for the French conglom. Viv U topper Jean-Rene Fourtou arrives Stateside today to meet with execs at Universal Music and Universal Studios to discuss the future of those businesses ahead of a key board meeting scheduled for Sept. 25. Vivendi is expected to settle on a strategic direction then, even as it inks deals to dispose of $10 billion worth of non-core assets.

Owns 89% of software unit

Viv U owns 89% of Canal Plus Technologies, which develops the software used in Canal Plus decoders. Thomson Multimedia already holds a small stake in the company. Vivendi had apparently hoped to get closer to $300 million for Canal Plus Technologies.

As Vivendi tries to move forward, its past is never far behind. French regulators seized documents, including emails of former chairman Jean-Marie Messier, that show previous management pressured Vivendi’s auditors to sanction questionable off-balance sheet accounting. French stock market authorities are already probing Messier’s financial disclosures and investors on both sides of the Atlantic are suing.

(Alison James in Paris contributed to this report.)

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