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Viv U’s profit soars to $1B with tax aid

Company's telcos the biggest money spinners

PARIS — Flush from a massive tax break, Vivendi Universal said Wednesday third-quarter net profit more than quintupled to just over $1 billion, from $171 million a year ago. Revenue stood at $6.1 billion.

Gaul’s biggest media group upped its full-year 2004 net-profit forecast from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion. Figures exclude items like currency fluctuation, acquisitions and asset sales.

Net debt stood at $7.2 billion as of Sept. 30, down dramatically from nearly $17 billion last year.

More than half this third quarter’s profit, or $553 million, came from a new tax treatment.

Operating income rose 19% to $1.1 billion, fueled by the continuing strength of Viv U’s mobile phone biz.

Operating income at Universal Music stood at $37.8 million, up on last year’s $5.2 million, due to higher sales, lower marketing expenses and other cost-cutting measures.

Some analysts had been expecting a bigger improvement.

Company predicted a financially promising final quarter, thanks to new albums from artists including Ashanti, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John, Eminem and U2 as well as a number of greatest-hits collections.

In France, the cost of the Olympic Games, recruitment expenses and the timing of movie releases combined to send the Canal Plus Group’s third-quarter operating income downward to $125 million vs. $173 million a year ago.

Viv U Games slashed its operating loss in half to $38 million, despite lower net sales, due to lower operating expenses as a result of cutbacks.

As before, Viv U’s telcos were the biggest money spinners, with the Gallic SFR Cegetel Group posting third-quarter operating income of $798.9 million, up 15%, due to growth in its mobile telephony business.

Growth came despite losses in the fixed telephone business, which recorded a third-quarter operating loss of $38 million, compared with an operating loss of $6.5 million in the same period last year, due to the costs associated with the launch of a new broadband service.

The 35%-owned Maroc Telecom Group saw a 13% hike in third-quarter operating income to $255 million on revenues up 14%.

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