Vodafone's French Fancy

With French media giant Vivendi Universal having outlined earlier this week how it needs to sell some of its assets très rapidement to help tackle its €19 billion debt, talk has surfaced that Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) has offered what would be a very helpful €4.7 billion for the troubled conglomerate's 44 percent stake in Cegetel.

Vodafone has for some time expressed an interest in this holding, as it would give the mobile giant control of French mobile operator SFR (see Vodafone Hovers Over SFR).

Vodafone has described the report of the bid, published in French newspaper La Tribune, as "pure speculation," and that "as before, it's all dependent on what Vivendi decides to do," says Bobby Leach of the global operator's investor relations team. That's quite a precise sum that's been quoted though, isn't it. "I don't know where that figure has come from. It's possible that it was picked up from a note put out by Salomon Smith Barney that gave a range of what the Cegetel stake might be worth. I think €4.7 billion was around the top end of the scale. That could be the source of it – maybe we should be told," adds Leach, laughing.

With Vivendi desperate for cash, and France the only major European country in which Vodafone does not have a strong presence, it seems only a matter of time before Sir Christopher Gent's mob has its hands on France's number two mobile carrier.

Also related to Vivendi's current predicament is the future of its portal joint venture with Vodafone, Vizzavi. A further €600 million had been proposed for its expansion, but Vivendi has told analysts it won't be involved in this funding. What's going to happen to that business now? "We can't comment on what Vivendi is going to do. Again it's all speculation. What I will say is that Vizzavi is fully funded," states Leach. — Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung

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