Universal Music’s blockbuster listing: don’t stop me now…

Investors are betting heavily that the ‘boom in music streaming’, which has transformed Universal’s fortunes, ‘still has a long way to go’

Lucian Grainge is CEO of Universal Music Group
Lucian Grainge: ‘good ears’
(Image credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

In a recent note to investors, analysts at J.P. Morgan Cazenove described Universal Music as an “extraordinary, must-own asset”, adding that its €34bn (£29bn) valuation might prove conservative, and predicting one of €54bn (£46.1bn). The world’s biggest music company didn’t quite hit that high note when debuting on Euronext in Amsterdam, in “Europe’s largest listing this year”, said Reuters. But shares in the group – whose talent ranges from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Queen, to Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish – nonetheless “leapt by more than a third”, arriving at a valuation of €45bn (£38.4bn). Investors are clearly betting heavily that the “boom in music streaming”, which has transformed the label’s fortunes, “still has a long way to go”.

The big winners from this blockbuster float are shareholders in Universal’s former parent, the French media group Vivendi, who each “received one share of Universal before the listing”, ensuring 60% of the label is now in their hands, said Leila Abboud in the FT. It’s also “a big win” for Sir Lucian Grainge, who has headed Universal since 2010 and now scoops a bonus of at least $140m (£101.8m). Many “struggling-to-make-a-living” artists will be aghast at that “mind-blowing” figure, said Tim Ingham in Rolling Stone. But given his key role in reviving an industry that faced terminal decline, “it’s hard to say Grainge is undeserving of his payday”.

A native North Londoner, Grainge, 60, walked out of an A-level exam to negotiate his first record deal with the Psychedelic Furs, said Mark Sweney in The Guardian. U2’s frontman Bono once described him as a “ruthless f***er” with “good ears”. Grainge “almost did not live” to see this milestone. Early last year, he narrowly survived a life-threatening bout of Covid.

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