Vivendi Uni: Back To Basics

NEW YORK — Vivendi Universal on Wednesday signalled its intention to focus on its core media and entertainment interests in a series of moves following last week’s $2.2 billion acquisition of U.S. educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Co.

Vivendi Uni said it has sold its 9.9% stake in Havas Advertsing SA to institutional investors. Havas also bought back about 3 million shares, or about 10% of the total Vivendi stake.

Separately, French newspaper Les Echos said Vivendi Uni has hired investment banks Lazard Llc. and Rothschild to find a buyer for its free newspaper and trade media divisions. Announcing the Houghton Mifflin acquisition last week, Vivendi Uni chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier said the move makes his company strategically complete, adding that it will sell several non-core assets to fund the purchase. Rothschild will seek a buyer for the free newspaper unit Comareg, valued at about $300 million. The trade media division, Professional Information, is valued at about $500 million. That sale will be managed by Lazard.

Messier described the two units last week as sound and profitable but “too French” for Vivendi Uni’s global business strategy.

Meanwhile, British online directory service Scoot.com Plc. said Vivendi Uni has ended talks about a possible purchase of the company. In April, Vivendi Uni said it was in talks to buy Scoot for as much as #100 million ($139 million), but Scoot rejected that valuation as “inadequate.”