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VIVENDI MIGHT HAVE TO WRITE A COUPLE OF BIG CHECKS

What’s $1.1 Billion in Write-offs and $250 Million to Alpert and Moss Among Friends?
It ain’t easy being the world’s largest waste water treatment/entertainment conglomerate.

Following Tuesday’s all-time low stock price, protests against CEO Jean-Marie Messier, the controversial firing of the head of its pay-TV channel and a hacked electronic voting system at last week’s shareholder meeting, Vivendi Universal has disclosed that it might incur an off-balance sheet charge of up to $1.1 billion as part of a year-old plan to pay for management stock options. The charge involves the company buying back nearly 20 million of its own shares at between $54 and $73.

There’s nothing illegal, immoral or fattening about off-balance sheet accounting, but following the collapse of Enron, analysts, investors and loathsome trade hacks are wary of the practice—the latter mostly because it means trying to comprehend complex financial statements after staying up all night sniffing glue.

But wait—there’s more. And by more, we mean more cash flowing away from the company. According to the Los Angeles Times, VU may also have to pay $250 million to Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. As part of the pair’s sale of Rondor publishing to Seagram in 2000 and Vivendi’s subsequent purchase of UMG, they can ask for the cash if Vivendi’s stock  price stays below $37.50 for 10 straight days. The price has been below that level for nearly a month. As of this writing, Vivendi is trading at $32.26.

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