Vivendi clarifies Telecom Italia stake is unaffected by sale of ordinary shares

Vivendi announced its stake in Telecom Italia remains at 24.9 per cent, despite the French media company selling off around 0.2 per cent of its shares.

Telecom Italia on Friday revealed that Vivendi had sold 30 million shares for a price of €0.92 ($1.04) apiece in late March, Italian daily Il Sore 24 Oro reported. The sale took place off market, and was part of the regular process of buying and selling, a Vivendi spokesperson told the newspaper.

The announcement initially raised eyebrows because Vivendi has spent several months building its stake in Telecom Italia to 24.9 per cent, which is just under the 25 per cent threshold for triggering an automatic take-over bid.

Vivendi later clarified that the 0.2 per cent sale covered ordinary shares rather than common shares Le Figaro reported, citing Reuters calculations. The French company's ownership of Telecom Italia is based on its common shareholding rather than its ordinary shares, the newspaper explained.

A Vivendi spokesperson told Le Figaro that the sale of ordinary shares was nothing more than a "technical adjustment".

The French company is thought to be keen on developing Telecom Italia into a southern European media powerhouse. However, the strategy reportedly led to conflict between Vivendi chairman Vincent Bollore and Marco Patuano, the former CEO of Telecom Italia who quit the company last month.

While Telecom Italia did not explain Patuano's reason for resigning, the former CEO had reportedly clashed with Bollore over calls for Telecom Italia to sell its stake in Brazilian business TIM Participacoes in order to advance that focus on southern Europe.

The Italian operator appointed Flavio Cattaneo -- the former CEO of transport company Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori and a member of Telecom Italia's board -- as its new CEO in late March.

Vivendi's future plans for Telecom Italia may face opposition from French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, who invested in options to purchase shares in the Italian operator during 2015.

Niel previously denied seeking to raid Telecom Italia's assets, had backed its Brazilian business as a good opportunity for future growth, and noted that he would closely watch Vivendi's moves surrounding the operator before deciding on his own approach.

For more:
- see this Il Sore 24 Oro report (in Italian)
- view this Le Figaro article (in French)
- read Telecom Italia's statement on Patuano
- see the operators Cattaneo announcement

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Xavier Niel sees Telecom Italia as consolidator rather than M&A target