Vivendi sells stake in Havas Advertising to institutions

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PARIS--French utilities and communications conglomerate Vivendi has sold a 9% stake in Havas Advertising to a small group of institutionalinvestors, bringing its controlling share of the world's sixth-largest advertising group down to 20.7%. The identities of the investors were notdisclosed.

Havas Advertising CEO Alain de Pouzilhac hailed the sale, noting that it "offered an opportunity to strengthen our group's international shareholder base while creating a more liquid market for our shares."

Mr. de Pouzilhac says the sale demonstrated the continuing "support and confidence of our core shareholder, Vivendi." Industry analysts, however, were less certain.

Capital market experts say the transaction is unlikely to squelch ongoing speculation that either Vivendi, Havas Advertising or both are soon to be considered prey for hostile takeover bids. The rumors have driven the price of the two companies' stock upwards in frenzied trading on the Paris Bourse, or stock exchange, in the past two weeks.

Analysts have long suggested that Vivendi would eventually sell its entire stake in Havas Advertising, a division of French communications and publishing giant Havas, because Havas Advertising's activities are far from Vivendi's core businesses of enviromental services, media and telecommunications. Conventional wisdom holds that cash from such a sale -- as well as the millions raised through the 9% divestment announced Nov. 16 -- would help Vivendi fend off any hostile takeover battle.

Havas Advertising's main French rival, Publicis, has been the most-frequently cited candidate for buying Vivendi's stake. Publicis CEO Maurice Levy issued an official denial last week that the group was interested in merging with Havas Advertising or acquiring part of its capital.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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