Sharing the wealth

Viv U profits to pay rich dividends

Wednesday was payday for aggrieved Vivendi Universal shareholders.

Company posted a 55% hike in adjusted net profits to $2.5 billion, above its own forecast of “more than $2.2 billion,” and promised to share more than half of the proceeds — 55% or $1.19 a share — with shareholders.

“Our strategy is paying off,” said Viv U chairman Jean Bernard Levy, referring to the conglom’s turnaround since its brush with bankruptcy in 2002. He added that he’s “confident that 2006 will be a year of further improved growth and improved profitability.”

Fourth-quarter revenues rose to $6.5 billion, up from $6.09 billion a year earlier, while previously published annual revenues rose 9% to $23.2 billion.

However, net profit was down for both the fourth quarter, at $1.48 billion, and for the year, at $3.74 billion, due to the effects of an exceptional $1.81 billion gain a year ago from asset disposals.

In its full-year divisional breakdown, Viv U said operating profit at Universal Music Group rose 18.8% on a constant-currency basis to $571.5 million on higher sales volumes, cost savings and lower restructuring charges.

Thanks largely to hit vidgame “World of Warcraft,” VU Games posted an operating profit of $48.8 million last year compared with a loss of $241.8 million in 2004.

Canal Plus Group’s operating profit rose 8% to $288 million. Increased marketing spend and hefty investments in French first division football should be amortized this year, conglom said, when financial impact of a net increase of 310,000 subscribers and higher average spend kick in.

Gallic mobile telco SFR saw a 3.6% increase in operating profit to $2.8 billion, while Moroccan telco Maroc Telecom’s rose 14.2% to $907.3 million.

Viv U’s share price rose 1.4% to $30.65 in Paris trading.