April 20, 2020 / 5:56 AM / 4 months ago

Vivendi investors back hiked dividend in defiance of France's crisis call

PARIS (Reuters) - Media conglomerate Vivendi’s (VIV.PA) shareholders almost unanimously backed the payout of a higher dividend for 2019 on Monday, defying calls by the French government to limit or cancel payouts due to the coronavirus crisis.

FILE PHOTO: A man stands as a woman walks past a sign of Vivendi at the main entrance of the entertainment-to-telecoms conglomerate headquarters in Paris, France, November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

Most large French listed companies have either scrapped, cut or put under review their dividend policies in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which led to massive state-supported schemes to safeguard companies from bankruptcy.

Among companies listed on France's benchmark stock index CAC 40 .FCHI, retailer Carrefour (CARR.PA), luxury group LVMH <LVMH. PA> and telecoms operator Orange (ORAN.PA) have cut their dividends, while Safran (SAF.PA) and Airbus (AIR.PA) withdrew them.

By contrast, Vivendi kept its resolution offering a dividend of 0.60 euro per share for the fiscal year 2019, an increase of 20% from a year earlier. The payout was approved by more than 99% of voting shareholders, including Vivendi’s controlling investor, Vincent Bollore.

Sanofi France’s head also pledged that the group would pay out a dividend for this year, with the overall amount expected to be slightly higher than last year.

Paris-based Vivendi is the parent company of the world’s biggest music label, Universal Music Group, whose strong performance has buoyed the group’s value and performance in recent years.

Vivendi’s first-quarter sales rose by 4.4% from a year earlier, to 3.87 billion euros ($4.2 billion), as revenue leapt 13% at Universal, home to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.

During the shareholders meeting, Vivendi’s Chief Financial Officer Hervé Philippe said the group had 4.8 billion euros in cash at end of March, following the sale of a 10% stake in Universal. Vivendi also has 2.3 billion euros of credit facilities at its disposal.

CANAL PLUS

Separately, Vivendi’s second-biggest unit, pay-TV channel Canal Plus, has put almost 30% of its French staff on a state-supported unemployment scheme, which is aimed at safeguarding companies that are the most-exposed to the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, a Canal Plus spokeswoman confirmed.

“We thought Canal was strong enough to avoid appealing to national solidarity,” CFDT union official Sebastien Cochelin said. “The management’s response was: ‘Other people do it, so we do it’.”

The channel’s senior management have agreed to cut their pay by 25% from April 6 to June 30, the period when Canal Plus will use the state-supported scheme.

Canal Plus, which has shed jobs and cut costs in France in the face of competition from original content producers such as Netflix (NFLX.O) and new sport rights distributors, saw its sales grow by 1%.

Vivendi said advertising unit Havas saw its sales fall 3.3% in the first quarter on an underlying basis, adding that all the sales changes were at constant currency rates.

The division, along with publishing unit Editis and Vivendi Village, which organises live performance events, will likely be affected in the second quarter, Vivendi said, without elaborating.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Alexander Smith and Pravin Char

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