If you fancy engaging with Australian media companies or their key investors this AGM season, here is a quick guide on when and where the action will be unfolding:
Rupert goes back to back in LA
There was no News Corp AGM last year because 21st Century Fox was deemed the sponsoring company as part of the demerger. However, as executive chairman of two listed companies, Rupert Murdoch will now have to endure shareholders twice a year. The world’s most powerful media mogul has elected to go back to back in Los Angeles with the Fox AGM on November 12, followed by the News Corp AGM the next day on November 13. Both events will be held in the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox lot, and shareholders will again be subjected to ridiculous security and logistical efforts just to get inside.
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Murdoch will need to use his gerrymander to retain control and defeat a shareholder proposal at the News Corp AGM to unwind the dual-class voting system, which delivers him almost 40% of the vote with only 13% of the stock. These pro-democracy shareholders proposals have routinely been well supported since the first was put to the News Corp board in 2007.
Surprisingly, there are no hostile shareholder resolutions at the Fox AGM, but the entire board is up for election, as is required under United States law. The non-binding remuneration report votes will be interesting because Murdoch has sneakily used the demerger to lift his family’s annual salary from the empire above $60 million for the first time.
James Murdoch has continued his personal earnings recovery after the phone-hacking scandal to receive a record US$18.7 million last year. But that’s well shy of dad’s package, which the accountants declared was worth US$29.25 million. Throw in an additional US$8.7 million from News Corp shareholders in 2013-14 for what is a part-time chairmanship and 83-year-old Rupert has collected a record US$38 million. With a shareholding worth more than US$10 billion, is there really a need for such largesse? Why not do a James Packer and work for nothing?
Stokes shows Rupert how to double up and get modestly paid
Fellow billionaire Kerry Stokes has also been juggling chairing responsibilities at two AGMs in recent years. We haven’t got details of the Seven Group Holdings AGM yet, but Seven West Media continues to shun Perth and will gather with shareholders in Sydney on November 12, clashing with the Fox AGM.
Ryan Stokes is up for election and could face quite a protest given the progressive watering down of the independent majority on that board over recent years.
Peter Costello’s debut AGM in Sydney
Now that Peter Costello is a director of Nine Entertainment Company, should he really be getting paid to appear on Andrew’s Bolt’s Channel Ten show, plus for his regular columns in the Murdoch press? The former federal treasurer and Future Fund chairman is up for election at what will be the most elevated major AGM this season, up on the 37th floor of 2 Park Street on Wednesday, November 19.
Other interesting issues at Nine include the proposed sell-down of the two US vulture funds that floated the business, and there will have to be a question or two on the street-brawling habits of CEO David Gyngell, plus his $10 million share freebie as part of the float.
Fairfax comes to Melbourne on a race day
Major Sydney-based companies such as Lend Lease, Brambles, Woolworths, Macquarie Group and Fairfax Media all regularly take their AGMs interstate, partly in order to get away from the ravings of Jack Tilburn.
Fairfax has chosen Melbourne this year and the November 6 AGM coincides with Oaks Day at Flemington. The Fairfax AGM was previewed in Crikey last week, but one interesting element is the ferocious campaign The Australian Financial Review has launched against Australian National University for negatively screening certain listed resource companies.
While Fairfax’s largest shareholder Gina Rinehart is no doubt applauding, Fairfax needs to be careful with such an attack on the freedom of institutional investors to make their own investment decisions. They may choose to respond with some aggressive voting at the AGM.
Tiddlers to watch: Macquarie Radio and Prime Media
Not all AGM details have been released yet. Macquarie Radio is traditionally held in the last week of November, and it would be interesting to work over the raft of Hadley-Jones-Fairfax issues with the board at a public meeting.
And Seven affiliate Prime Media will be more interesting after the exit of cornerstone billionaire shareholder Paul Ramsay shortly before his death this year. Former News Ltd executive chairman John Hartigan is the new independent Prime Media chair, presumably with the support of 11.4% shareholder Kerry Stokes.