French telecoms and entertainment group Vivendi is on a global expansion drive, with fresh speculation that it is looking at escalating its 20% sharing holding in NBC Universal.
The speculation follows Vivendi’s confirmation last week that it is in talks to secure a majority stake in Zain, the Kuwait-based Middle East and African cellco.
The company stated, “Vivendi confirms its interest for acquiring a majority stake in the Zain group’s telecommunications activities in Africa, in line with its clearly defined strategy of seeking growth opportunities in emerging countries. This acquisition would enable Vivendi to capitalize on its successful experience of developing mobile telephony in Africa.”
Reportedly Vivendi is looking at a stake of between 51% and 65% of the African business. That would include the mobile assets of 15 African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
In 2005 Zain purchased those businesses then called Celtel, for Euro 2.4 billion. CEO Saad al Barrak, told the Financial Times last week “if we are approached by big players with clear value creation we have to pass this to our shareholders. This is not a decision for us on the management level. It is all up to the shareholders to decide.”
Analysts have speculated that Vivendi may consider selling its 20% stake in NBC to fund that African acquisition but that move seems doubtful, particularly given the timely emergence of speculation from the Sun Valley conference on Friday that an increase in its NBC holding was more likely. Vivendi’s take in NBC however is estimated to be worth Euro 3.6 billion.
It is clear that CEO Jean Bernard- Levy is hungry for large-scale acquisitions in the current environment. If either deal were to proceed it would mark Lévy's fifth significant transaction in under four years. Recent deals include the acquisitions of ISP Neuf Cegetel, satellite broadcaster TPS and the Bertelsmann Music Group, and a merger with gaming giant Activision.