One fact you won’t read in any Murdoch family publication or hear on any of its TV channels is how poorly the new-look Fox Corporation is faring.
Most of the Murdochs’ film, TV and cable assets were sold to Disney earlier this year, leaving the family with the new Fox Corporation (chaired by Rupert Murdoch with his son Lachlan as CEO), its free-to-air Fox News Channel and some other media assets.
While Fox Corporation’s financial performance is OK thanks to the strong position of the right-wing Fox News Channel and its undying love for President Donald Trump, this hasn’t translated to Wall Street where the company remains under suspicion.
In fact, Fox’s class A (non-voting) and class B (voting) shares have fallen 16% since listing in March. That’s a loss in combined market value of around US$3.7 billion (or more than A$5.4 billion) for the two classes of shares.
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Contrast Fox’s underperformance with that of the family’s other company, News Corp, whose outlook — with dying print and media assets — is even more fraught. Still, its shares are up more than 15% so far this year. News and Fox lag behind the wider Wall Street performance so far in 2019, looking to end the year as notable underperformers.
The S&P 500 — the best guide of Wall Street performance — is up 23% so far this year. So News Corp is around eight percentage points short, and Fox is a massive 39 points short. If the Fox shares had matched the market performance value of Fox, they would have been up by more than US$9 billion (or more than A$13 billion). And in a further embarrassment to the Murdochs, Disney shares are up more than 24% so far this year — just ahead of the S&P 500 as investors reckon it was the winner of the split.
Last week’s quarterly reports from both companies didn’t mention this shortfall, but there was a clear recognition of the problem by Fox which revealed a large US$2 billion share buyback to try and halt the slide in share price.
And in true Murdochian form, other shareholders are going to pay for keeping the Murdochs from becoming poorer, and will also finance a rise in the family’s level of control of the company from 38% to 44%. The Murdochs have generously agreed to cap any rise in the level of control at 44%, as a rise above 50% could trigger tax problems for the company and the Murdoch Family Trust.
There is, of course, no recognition of any of the embarrassment at Fox — especially when the split and sale of the company was supposed to make the new company lighter, brighter and more appealing.
The reality is that investors have not wanted Fox shares, so the fortunes of Rupert, Lachie and the other members of the Murdoch Family Trust have withered. What’s remaining must be protected using other people’s money (i.e. the shareholders in the 62% of the company not controlled by the Murdochs).
It might be termed “capital management” but this buyback is all about fortune management — the Murdochs’ fortune that is.