Sunny Sumner sees gonzo ’04 for Viacom

Topper touts 'breakout' year, but B'buster uncertain

An inveterate corporate cheerleader, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone joked Tuesday that money manager Gordie Crawford had suggested he try a little pessimism for a change in addressing the Smith Barney Citigroup investors conference in Phoenix.

“But, guys, if I did I wouldn’t be telling the truth,” Redstone deadpanned.

And with that he was off on a 40-minute speech long on predictions of a “breakout 2004” for Viacom and short on any revelatory announcements. He went so far as to suggest that the Gotham conglom — whose stock has struggled of late — would enjoy “the best year in the history of Viacom.”

Even Redstone’s recounting of his recent personal activities had the ring of a relentless optimist.

“I logged a lot of airplane miles (and) I got married,” the octogenarian said. “And I established a California residency, so I could vote for my friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Viacom’s closely tracked Class B shares fell 70¢ to $43.85 on the day. One drag on the stock is the uncertainty over the future of Viacom’s Blockbuster video retailer, which Redstone has famously dubbed a “noncore asset.”

“I wish I could clear up the conflicting message,” Redstone said. “But the problem is that I’m conflicted.” He added that it’s unlikely the conglom could sell the unit anytime soon at price the Street would consider attractive.

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