Vivendi Universal shares crashed today (July 2) as the company became the latest to be tinged by questions over its accountancy policies.
At 1215 GMT today the shares were down 35% at Euros15.53 having been suspended four times by stockmarket regulator, the COB, which limits violent price movements. The shares had started the day with a 10% gain reflecting the news of chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier's departure.
The accountancy story was the front page lead in the influential afternoon paper Le Monde. The paper said that Vivendi Universal tried to avoid consolidating a Euros1.5bn loan transaction that was part of the complex deal to offload the group's BSkyB shares. Consolidating the deal would have increased debts and depressed group profits, perhaps enough to push it into the red. The COB ruled that it had to go ahead with the consolidation, but Vivendi apparently instructed auditors Andersen to find a way that would allow it to stay in profit.
While the incident, if true, is not on the same scale as those at Enron or WorldCom, it adds to questions about Vivendi's financial health. Only yesterday evening, credit rating agency Moody's downgraded the group's corporate debt to "junk" status, i.e. not being of investment quality.
In May, Le Monde wrote that in December 2001 Vivendi Universal came within a few hundred thousand Euros of being technically bankrupt. Vivendi has said that it intends to sue over that story.