It hasn’t been a brilliant crisis for Rupert Murdoch, but you wouldn’t read about it in any of his journals. News Corp’s share price has been buffeted and sold down on worries about falling earnings and too much debt over the $6 billion purchase of the Dow Jones company last year, the newspaper businesses in America and the UK look flat and TV earnings are said to be under pressure as ad rates fall.

The shares have traded through a local range of a 52 week high of $27 and a low of $13.11. The closed Tuesday here at $14.25. Claims the cable businesses, and BSkyB and Foxtel and Sky Italia, are better placed to ride out recession, are also being questioned. The Sydney Morning Herald today questioned that claim about Foxtel when reporting that Telstra’s finance boss, John Stanhope, had this to say yesterday:

FOXTEL’S chief executive, Kim Williams, will not have been amused by yesterday’s comments by Telstra’s chief financial officer, John Stanhope. Stanhope said in a speech in Sydney that while the telecom company was largely unaffected by the meltdown on global markets, it had started to feel some effects in units more heavily exposed to consumer discretionary spending.

“Calls to 1234 through connect to restaurants have dropped off during the week. People are not eating out as much,” he said. Apparently they are also less keen to take up pay TV. Confirming recent analysts’ suggestions, Stanhope said Foxtel had felt the impact on growth in subscriber numbers. New subscriptions “are slowing down”, he said.

Telstra owns half of Foxtel, and News Corp and James Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings own the other 50 per cent.

Reports from Britain this week say TV ad rates fell to a 15 year low in August as advertisers cut campaigns, eliminate them completely and force lower charges on TV networks. BSkyB is not exempt.

In the US the giant TV Networks, CBS and its associate the MTV cable business, have both forecast a worsening outlook as revenues fall and earnings and margins fall. In addition, CBS has revealed its intention to cut the carrying value of its intangible assets and goodwill be a massive $US14 billion because of the worsening outlook. NewsCorp has $US33 billion in intangibles and goodwill out of $US62 billion in assets at June 30.

Now Rupert’s plans to abandon the Russian market have come to a halt as the prospective buyer for his Russian and eastern European markets outdoor advertising business, has pulled the plug.

The French advertising group, JCDecaux said overnight that it had abandoned exclusive talks with Rupert Murdoch over the purchase of his emerging markets billboard business.

“Both companies recognise that economic and capital market conditions have made it increasingly difficult to conclude strategic partnerships on this scale,” JCDecaux said in a statement.

The scrapping of the planned $US1-1.5 billion cash and shares deal deprives Mr Murdoch of an exit route from a predominantly Russian investment that has been damaged by increasing political uncertainty and rising business pressures.

The Russian economy is slumping and the nervous Government has pumped the best part of $US190 billion into a financial system that has soaked it up and not really stabilised. JCDecaux’s share price rose after the announcement in Paris. All this makes for a cheery News AGM in New York, Friday night, our time.

Peter Fray

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