Bronfmans shed billion in stock

Family sells 16.9 million shares of Viv U

The Bronfman family has chopped its remaining holdings in Vivendi Universal by a fifth, as the onetime liquor barons and majority owners of Universal Studios moved to diversify their investment portfolio with the sale of $1.09 billion in Vivendi U shares.

The Bronfman clan sold U parent Seagram to French conglom Vivendi in a $26 billion deal closed last December. But the family has remained the largest shareholder in the resulting Vivendi U.

Now, as a result of selling some 16.9 million Vivendi shares to the company for about $64.60 apiece, the Bronfman family’s collective holdings in Vivendi slips to about 6.1% from a previous stake of just under 8%. The stock transaction was announced after the close of market trading Tuesday, as Vivendi’s U.S.-listed shares closed down $1.20, or almost 2%, at $65.75.

“This sale reflects my family’s desire to diversity our investment portfolio after the creation of Vivendi Universal last year,” said Edgar Bronfman Jr., who is Vivendi U’s vice chairman and issued a statement on behalf of the family.

“However, the substantial majority of our portfolio remains with Vivendi Universal as we expect its equity to appreciate significantly over time,” Bronfman said. “(We) have committed with the company not to sell or hedge shares for the remainder of 2001, and in any case my family has no plans for further sales. The family continues to be very supportive of the strategy, direction, pace and performance of Vivendi Universal.”

A Vivendi U spokeswoman, reached at a company retreat currently under way at Universal Studios Florida, declined comment on whether the shares would be resold on the open market or otherwise. But she said the shares would be held in the company treasury for the time being.

Vivendi U announced the stock transaction late Monday in a press release issued from corporate headquarters in Paris.

Vivendi U has a total 1.11 billion shares outstanding. The Bronfman shares sold were comprised of 15.4 million shares sold by entities related to the family of Edgar Bronfman Sr. and 1.5 million shares sold by the Claridge Foundation, a charity related to the family of Charles Bronfman.

The Edgar Bronfman Sr. family continues to hold about 33 million shares and the Charles Bronfman portion of the family about 34.1 million shares, with the entire Bronfman clan now holding a total 67.1 million shares.

“I understand the Bronfman family’s desire to diversify their family holdings,” Vivendi chief Jean-Marie Messier. “This is a perfectly understandable family patrimonial decision.”