Billionaire head of Seven West Media Kerry Stokes.

Kerry Stokes was $50 million worse off by the time he had jetted into Washington last Friday as part of the “how good” team of PM Scott Morrison. That was thanks to a sharp fall in the price of Seven West Media shares on Friday, which capped off a huge losing week for the stock.

The value of Stokes’ 41% stake in Seven West (held through the billionaire’s key company, Seven Group Holdings) fell by 8.4% on Friday, taking the company’s fall for the week to a rather embarrassing 14.6%. Friday’s fall wiped $22 million from the value of Stokes’ holding. The loss for the week was $50 million. And all that without explanation from the company or a query from the ASX.

This won’t be helped by new revelations last night that Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith is now part of an investigation by the Australian Federal Police looking at alleged conduct in Afghanistan. Roberts-Smith currently runs Seven West Media’s most profitable business — the Queensland operations of the Seven Network.

News of a looming purge, under new Seven CEO James Warburton, is also out today. Nine reports a “restructure” is on its way before Seven announces its 2020 programming on October 23. Warburton’s first remarks upon replacing Tim Worner last month signaled that Seven West would become a hunter looking for acquisitions, but a restructuring of the type suggested on Monday would signal a clean-up to make the company more attractive to possible buyers (such as News Corp, Disney or NBC Comcast).

That would have been known to Stokes in Washington, where he was basking in the reflected glory of our PM. Stokes was one of a group of Australian business-people to accompany Morrison on his state visit to the US. Others who flew in or joined from the US included iron ore billionaires Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest, Anthony Pratt, Lachlan Murdoch and Sarah Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall were no-shows at the state dinner.

At 38 cents a share, Seven West now has a market value of just $573 million. That’s $80 million less than gross debt of $653.8 million at June 30, and just $7 million more than net debt of $566 million. Stokes’ 41% is now worth just $235.5 million. In other word, investors have changed their minds about the chances of Seven West improving its 2019-20 performance under Warburton. Will Murdoch’s News Corp now set its sights on the prey?

Peter Fray

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