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Game publisher (and makers of the hit Call of Duty series) Activision is officially on its own again now that it has made the move to buy back $5.83 billion worth of stock from parent company Vivendi. That amounts to approximately 429 million shares. Separately, a new investment group led by Activision chief executive Bobby Kotick and co-chairman Brian Kelly will purchase an additional 172 million shares from Vivendi for $2.34 billion.
Vivendi will retain 83 million shares, or 12 percent, of Activision, but the public now owns the majority of Activision’s stock.
“These transactions together represent a tremendous opportunity for Activision Blizzard and all its shareholders, including Vivendi,” Activision chief executive Bobby Kotick said in a statement. “We should emerge even stronger — an independent company with a best-in-class franchise portfolio and the focus and flexibility to drive long-term shareholder value and expand our leadership position as one of the world’s most important entertainment companies.”
This takes away control of Activision from Vivendi and gives it back to Activision and its board.
“Seems like the deal should be a win-win … Activision gets its independence, Vivendi gets sorely needed cash, and Activision shareholders get earnings accretion,” R.W. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian told GamesBeat.
Activision believes earning-per-share will increase between 18 and 29 percent.
“The transactions announced today will allow us to take advantage of attractive financing markets while still retaining more than $3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability,” said Kotick. “Our successful combination with Blizzard Entertainment five years ago brought together some of the best creative and business talent in the industry and some of the most beloved entertainment franchises in the world, including Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Since that time, we have generated over $5.4 billion in operating cash flow and returned more than $4 billion of that to shareholders via buybacks and dividends. We are grateful for Vivendi’s partnership through this period, and we look forward to their continued support.”
Activision will fund this buyback with around $1.2 billion of its cash on hand. It will also borrow $4.6 billion from financial institutions, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan.
Kotick and Kelly contributed $100 million of their own money to the $2.34 billion investor-group buyout. Other investors in that group include Davis Advisors, Leonard Green & Partners, and Tencent. That alliance will own around a quarter of Activision.
Vivendi forced Activision into this move. The company, which at one point owned more than 60 percent of Activision, was attempting to squeeze cash out of the company any way it could. On Monday, Vivendi announced it would begin talks to force through a $3 billion dividend. That would have zapped a large chunk of Activision’s cash horde and only would have netted a pitiful $2 billion for Vivendi, which has $17 billion in debt.