Things seem to be again on the boil at the underperforming News Corp, the Murdoch clan’s other media group after 21st Century Fox. But it is all going on behind closed doors and, once again, it is something you won’t read about in the family’s Australian media outlets, especially in the newspapers — those believers in free speech (for them) and transparency (for others). But the family’s hold on the company could be under more pressure than ever before.
A filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission this morning has revealed that the second-largest holder of B-class voting shares, International Value Investors, has almost halved its stake in News Corp in recent months. The filing said International Value Investors now had a stake of 4.32%, or 8.635 million of the most valuable currency of all at News: the B-class voting shares. In February the firm had 14.63 million (or 7.33%) voting shares, up from the 12.83 million or 6.4% held at the time of the proxy statement issued last September for the 2015 annual meeting.
The sale of 6 million voting shares by the second-biggest shareholder comes as the proxy statement for the 2016 annual meeting is two weeks late compared to the 2014 statement (released on September 30) and almost six weeks later than the September 1 release in 2015.
The proxy statement not only contains salary and benefits details for senior executives but also proposals for the meeting from shareholders. In the past, these have included challenges to remuneration and voting. Without the voting of some insiders, such as the former big shareholder Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, there would have been a vote against the Murdochs and the board on the key issue of the dual-class shares and the Murdochs’ control.
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In February 2015, it was revealed that the Prince Al Waleed bin Talal had sold most of his 6.6% stake in News Corp (cutting it to just 1%). The sale of 13 million voting shares went into the market and it means International Value Investors may have built its stake by soaking up these shares. The Prince had been the biggest supporter of Rupert Murdoch over the years, and if International Value Investors voted with the family at last year’s AGM to defeat several proposals, its stake for this year’s meeting will be sharply lower.
Late last month, News Corp announced that John Elkann had resigned from the board. Elkann is the head of the Agnelli family (Fiat Chrysler, and big industrial and insurance holdings, and a big stake in The Economist magazine). To see such a high-profile director depart before the annual meeting, and not at the annual meeting (where his service would be celebrated) is odd. Something is definitely going on at News Corp. The 2015 annual meeting was held on October 14 (which was tonight, our time).