Jean-Rene Fourtou just isn't talking. At a press conference on Thursday night announcing 2002 financial results, the Vivendi Universal chairman stuck to business and refused to be led on any of the burning questions swirling around a possible sell-off of entertainment assets.
Regarding offers made by Texas oil man Marvin Davis and on-going discussions with Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone who are interested in buying up all or part of Vivendi Universal Entertainment (VUE), Fourtou said, "I won't tell you anything. I see everyone. I did see Mr Redstone and he is not the only one I have seen or will see."
Fourtou noted that 2002 had been a difficult year, "We spent the entire summer in a crisis and 2003 will not be the peaceful haven we might want but it will be a year of transition."
That transition amounts mostly to reducing debt. At the end of 2001 Vivendi Universal was carrying a debt load of Euros37bn. At year end 2002 that figure had dropped to Euros12.3bn he said, mostly through restructuring and divestments. Fourtou's goal is to chop off a further 7 billion in debt during 2003.
Overall, for 2002 he reported a loss of Euros23bn on revenues of Euros58bn. Among the different business units, phone group Cegetel is the clear winner reporting revenues of Euros7bn and a profit of Euros1.bn, up 56% from 2001.
VUE, which includes the US TV, film and theme park interests saw revenues of Euros6.98bn for a 2% increase in profits to Euros946m.
Canal Plus again lost Euros295m a 21% improvement on 2001. Fourtou noted that any restructuring at Canal Plus will "always be done with respect. The fact that Canal has to be reorganised is evident to everyone."
Reiterating his commitment to shareholders Fourtou said: "People ask why I am not accepting offers right now. That's because the horizon is not in the next 6 months but in two years so we can get to the best value for our shareholders."
Adding a bit of personality to the evening, the usually austere Fourtou joked to the management team when posed with a sticky question: "You are not forced to give precise answers."