NEW DELHI/PARIS (Reuters) - General Electric Co is holding discussions on partnerships or an IPO for its NBC Universal unit, Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt said, as expectations grow about a deal with cable operator Comcast Corp.
“Discussions are ongoing whether it is an IPO or another partnership,” Immelt told reporters on Friday in response to a question on whether GE was talking to Comcast to sell a stake in NBCU.
On Thursday, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that GE and Comcast are discussing a deal under which the largest U.S. cable firm would take control of 51 percent of NBC Universal with GE keeping the rest.
GE, which owns 80 percent of NBC Universal, is said to be pondering its options for the fourth-place TV network and ailing movie studio as its partner, Vivendi, draws closer to a decision on whether to unload its 20 percent stake.
GE has the right of first refusal to pick up Vivendi’s stake if the French company exercises its annual option to sell.
Immelt declined comment when asked if GE was planning to buy Vivendi’s stake.
In Paris, a Vivendi spokeswoman declined to comment on the group’s plans toward its NBCU stake.
She also declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that said Vivendi’s board would meet on October 16 to decide whether to ratify the company’s plan to buy Brazilian telecom group GVT for $2.9 billion. There has been speculation that Vivendi may also discuss the NBCU stake at the meeting.
Sources close to the matter say the October 16 date is circulating because it is the deadline for having completed due diligence on the GVT deal.
Analysts say a sale of its NBCU stake would allow Vivendi to continue to expand in emerging countries and to buy out minority investors in Canal Plus France, its pay-TV business. Unlike NBCU, Canal Plus is viewed as a key business for Vivendi.
“Vivendi has consistently stated that NBCU is non-core, but we think Vivendi will only sell if they have something to buy,” UBS analysts said in a research note on Thursday.
By 5:44 a.m. EDT, Vivendi shares were down 1.86 percent at 20.80 euros, in line with European media stocks.
Immelt was in the Indian capital to announce the integration of GE’s healthcare units in south Asia into a joint venture it runs with No. 3 Indian outsourcer Wipro Ltd.
“The financial aspect is relatively small. The focus is really on growing the business in future, this is more about consolidation of all disparate GE healthcare enterprises inside one substantial JV,” he told a news conference.
Immelt, who heads the largest U.S. conglomerate with interests in energy, finance, consumer products and appliances, transport and water, said he saw some improvement in the markets of the United States, Europe and other developed economies.
“The capital markets have definitely improved. There is reason to see stability and some optimism for the future,” he said.
Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Writing by Narayanan Somasundaram; Editing by Anshuman Daga and Jon Loades-Carter