* Shares at nine-year lows
* CEO says Vivendi is constantly reviewing assets, strategy
* CEO pledges to protect credit rating
(Adds CEO comments, background, detail)
By Leila Abboud and Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS, May 2 Vivendi (VIV.PA) Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy said in an interview that the telecoms-to-media group was constantly reviewing ways to optimise its portfolio of assets while protecting its prized credit rating.
The group's shares have fallen 18 percent since January to reach near nine-year lows, in part because of weakness at its French mobile business, SFR, which is struggling with intense competition from new low-cost mobile player Iliad (ILD.PA).
The conglomerate discount that investors have long put on Vivendi's shares because its telecom, video games, music and pay-TV businesses have little in common has also been widening.
The situation prompted Vivendi to signal in a March 27 annual letter to shareholders that all options on asset sales or restructuring would be considered to improve the share price.
"We need to think about how to improve the valuation of our shares," Levy told Reuters on Wednesday. "It's our role to always be examining scenarios that would increase the share price."
Asked whether Vivendi was considering asset sales or an overhaul of its structure, Levy said: "My role is to give perspectives to the board on a continuous basis on our various businesses, their growth plans and risks, so we can always be asking ourselves how to optimise our assets and use our balance sheet to the benefit of shareholders, while keeping our credit rating."
He added: "I remind you that we are very attached to our BBB credit rating and would do nothing that would change it."
A Bloomberg report last week said Vivendi was weighing a possible break-up of the group into telecoms and pay-TV assets on one side and video games and music on the other. [ID:nL2E8FPKWE]
Vivendi swiftly denied the report, but its shares jumped the next day as equity analysts speculated in research notes and credit analysts fretted over the possible impact on Vivendi's bonds.
Asked several times whether such a division of the group was being studied, Levy declined to answer directly.
"You could imagine 216,000 different scenarios - I am not going to comment on each one," he said. "We are always looking on how to optimise our assets, and I won't tell you more than that."
Beyond changing its portfolio of businesses, Vivendi's share performance will depend largely on improvements at SFR, analysts say.
SFR's woes forced Vivendi to cut its dividend in early March and get rid of the unit's long-time chief executive. Vivendi named long-time Vodafone (VOD.L) executive Michel Combes to the helm of SFR on Wednesday. He will take over on Aug. 1. [ID:nL5E8G2GPS] [ID:nL5E8E1013]
(Editing by James Regan)
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