Viv U may say adieu

Conglom mulls NYSE stock delisting

Vivendi Universal said it may delist its shares on the New York Stock Exchange — marking the formal end of the French conglom’s grand trans-Atlantic ambitions under former CEO Jean-Marie Messier.

It’s mostly a cost-cutting move, as Viv U said trading in its American Depositary Shares — the special class of securities used by foreign companies in the U.S. — has declined and accounted for less than 5% of total shares traded last year and in 2004. Most U.S. investors who own the shares hold them through Paris, where Viv U will continue to trade.

Vivendi said it “intends to maintain and develop its business operations in the U.S.,” where it has sold off most of the assets Messier acquired during his frenetic two years as jet-setting chief exec.

He made headlines in December 2000 by acquiring Seagram, owner of Universal Studios and Universal Music. He tucked in Barry Diller’s USA Networks, publisher Houghton-Mifflin and a stream of other assets, transforming the one-time French water utility into the world’s second-largest media conglom after Time Warner. He also scandalized French elites by moving to New York to woo investors Stateside.

Still, many U.S. and Canadian investors sold when Seagram did. They were the lucky ones.

The spending spree nearly bankrupted the company and decimated the stock. Messier resigned in July 2002, and his successors sold off assets. Vivendi retains Canal Plus and Universal Music plus a stake in GE’s NBC Universal.

Vivendi said it considers U.S. investors “an important part of its investor base and will maintain its relationship with U.S. investors.”

If ADS holders approve the move, the delisting should be completed by the end of June. Prior to that, holders can either sell their ADSs over the NYSE or exchange them for ordinary Viv U shares.

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