Murdoch Eyes Sale of Asset to Reduce Liberty’s Stake

Feb 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said last week he might consider selling an asset as a way to buy back shares purchased last year by Liberty Media and reduce Liberty’s stake in News Corp.

“We are very confident we can come to a friendly and fair resolution,” Mr. Murdoch told investors and analysts during a discussion of the company’s fiscal second-quarter results. “We may be able to take back and cancel some of their shares in return for some asset that they value more than we value.”

He added that News Corp. would not give up what he described as “big assets” to reduce Liberty’s stake in News Corp., nor will News Corp.’s “cupboards be cleaned up of all our cash,” he said.

Liberty last November doubled its stake in News Corp. to 18 percent from around 9 percent, triggering News Corp. to take measures to prevent a single shareholder from taking a large position in the company. Liberty is now the second-largest shareholder in News Corp. behind Mr. Murdoch and his family.

Observers have speculated that Liberty is trying to pressure News Corp. into giving up media assets to Liberty, which is trying to become more of an operator of assets.

Mr. Murdoch’s comments came as Fox Entertainment Group, the 82 percent News Corp.-controlled company that holds News Corp.’s U.S.-based entertainment assets, reported a 30 percent rise in fiscal second-quarter profit to $431 million, compared with a year-ago figure of $330 million. Revenue rose 17 percent to $3.9 billion.

News Corp. reported an 80 percent surge in fiscal second-quarter profit to $386 million, compared with a year-earlier profit of $215 million. Revenue for the three months ended Dec. 31 rose 18 percent to $6.6 billion. Fueling most of Fox Entertainment’s growth in the quarter were robust DVD sales of films and TV series such as “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “24,” and strong performances at the company’s cable properties.

At the cable networks, Fox News Channel continued to be a major driver of growth, benefiting from increased ratings, higher advertising rates and higher affiliate fees.

The broadcast network was the laggard in the Fox Entertainment Group stable during the fiscal second quarter, with its weak ratings and softness in advertising revenue leading to disappointing results for both the network and Fox owned-and-operated television stations. However, News Corp. officials also said they expect the Fox Broadcasting Network to end the current television season as either No. 1 or a close No. 2 behind CBS.