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Viv U unloads mag stake

Co. takes possible $49 mil loss on $342 mil sale

PARIS — The Vivendi Universal fire sale has begun.

Viv U Publishing sold its remaining 25% stake in its professional press unit Wednesday to Aprovia, a Paris-based entity of three investment funds, Cinven, Carlyle and Apax.

Viv U sold off 75% of its specialized magazine branch to Aprovia in April 2001 to partially finance its acquisition of Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin. The conglom held on to the remaining 25% in hopes of selling it for a higher price in a better market.

But with the market still sliding and the conglom facing a debt crunch and stalled credit negotiations with its banks, Viv U has taken what insiders believe to be a €50 million ($49 million) loss on the sale of the shares at a price of $342 million.

An Aprovia spokesman said the group will restructure the unit, which includes 70 European professional magazines covering economics, agriculture and computer science. Media analysts speculate that Houghton Mifflin may be the next Viv U asset unloaded. Having acquired several contracts since Viv U bought it in May 2001, the publisher may fetch close to the $2.1 billion the group paid for it.

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