Arbitrageurs wasted little time in getting to grips with the shares of the new Vivendi Universal group and the markedly downsized Canal Plus outfit.

The merger may only have been waved through on Friday evening, when Canal Plus shareholders gave their 96.6% approval, but trading began almost immediately in the new stock. Vivendi Universal shares, which replaced those of Vivendi, closed down 1.6% at Euros74.0 at the end of their first day. Canal Plus shares, which were rebased as part of the merger process and now represent only the French pay-TV operations, however climbed 15% from Euros2.70 to Euros3.10.

That gain is not expected to be enough to prevent Canal Plus from dropping out of the Paris stockmarket's leading index, the CAC-40. Vivendi Universal, however, increases its weighting in the basket of stocks as it becomes France's fourth largest company. At today's price it is valued at $62.7bn (Euros70.5bn).

Messier today confidently told journalists that he expects the market capitalisation to rise to over Euros100bn as the shares climb to Euros115-Euros120 early in the new year.

"The group will truly be without debt by January 1 and will have within two years a further Euros10bn margin for manoeuvre thanks to cash flow and the disposal of assets, notably our stake in BSkyB," said Messier. He expects to finalise the buyer for the Seagram drinks group later this month and complete the transaction in the first six months of 2001. After that he expects analysts and investors to focus on the group's core activities.

At the end of January the Vizzavi mobile internet portal, so far only launched as a WAP product, will be rolled out in PC and mobile versions in a further six countries, with music on-line following "in Spring of next year." Messier predicted that Vizzavi will break even at the operating level by the end of 2003 with forecasts based on half the group's existing subscribers (Canal Plus, Cegetel and Vodafone) spending a modest Euros5-Euros10 per month.