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Vivendi has 'significant' means to reward shareholders: CFO

A woman holding a young girl in her arms is silhouetted as she walks past the main entrance of the entertainment-to-telecoms conglomerate Vi
A woman holding a young girl in her arms is silhouetted as she walks past the main entrance of the entertainment-to-telecoms conglomerate Vi

By Leila Abboud

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Vivendi will have "significant" means to reward shareholders with buy-backs or dividends after it receives the proceeds from selling its stakes in video games publisher Activision Blizzard and Maroc Telecom, its finance chief said on Thursday.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley investor conference in Barcelona, Chief Financial Officer Philippe Capron said the board had not yet decided on the exact size or form of the return to shareholders, which will come amid a broader revamp at the group as it seeks to exit telecoms to focus more on media.

The board's decision will also be affected by Vivendi's plan to split into two companies next year by publicly listing its largest unit, the French mobile telecoms network operator SFR, in the middle of the year.

The remaining businesses - Universal Music Group, pay-television operator Canal Plus and its Brazilian telecoms firm GVT - will be in the media-focused company, according to the plan. Some of the 10.2 billion euros to come from the sales of video games maker Activision and Maroc Telecom will go to reduce debt to permit the split of the group.

"In terms of the size of, if you look at the debt-carrying capacity of the two new groups ... and compare this to 7 billion euros of pro-forma debt we will have after the disposals, there is very significant headroom between the two," said Capron.

"Whether the board will decide to allocate this headroom to a dividend or buy-backs, and how generous it will be, is not really for me to say. But the message that the market expects something has been received in the boardroom loud and clear."

Shareholders have been waiting to share in the benefits of Vivendi's revamp, which is being piloted by Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou and biggest shareholder Vincent Bollore.

Analysts have widely different predictions for how much Vivendi could return to shareholders from 700 million euros to 2 billion euros.

Vivendi's shares were up 0.3 percent at 18.52 euros by 1155 GMT on Thursday, a gain of 9.2 percent so far this year, while both the Stoxx Europe 600 media and telecoms sector indexes are up 29 percent.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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