Years of sucking up to Donald Trump may have brought record viewer numbers, revenues and profits for the Murdoch-owned Fox News channel, but in terms of sharemarket appreciation, it sucked.
2020 was a big thumbs down from investors. Shares in Fox Corporation — the rump of 21st Century Fox after the sell off to Disney — ended 2020 down 21%. That was serious underperformance in a market up 16.26% for the S&P 500, the key market measure in the US.
In other words, a dud performance from the key company for the Murdoch fortune.
While the S&P, Dow, Nasdaq and the Russell 3000 (which tracks the 3000 largest listed companies in the US) all hit a long list of highs in 2020 after the market bottomed out on March 23, Fox stumbled and bumbled its way through the year as its obsequious relationship with Trump failed the ultimate test: the November 3 election.
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Fox Corp shares went nowhere, falling from a high of US$38.84 in January to just over US$28 at the end of 2020. And while the shares bounced in the first trading sessions of 2021, its end-of-year US$17.28 billion market value marks it as a minnow among a flock of giants. Rival Comcast (NBC, Universal and Sky in the UK, which the Murdochs had to sell a couple of years ago to get the Disney deal approved) is worth US$240 billion, just ahead of Netflix with US$238 billion and Disney which has recovered to be worth US$328 billion.
But even those companies are dwarfed by Facebook on US$778 billion, Alphabet (Google) on US$1.19 trillion, Amazon on US$1.63 trillion, and Apple on US$2.26 trillion.
No wonder the Murdochs are trying to attach their companies to these giants and their huge revenue streams by falsely claiming the likes of Google and Facebook have “stolen” their revenue. Apple — and especially Amazon — have faster-growing ad revenues at the moment and, with Netflix, pose the greatest threat to Fox’s linear TV and cable news businesses.
While Fox News continues to do well among the loons on the right of American politics and life, as far as investors are concerned there’s not much of a future there given Trump is going on January 20 and proving to be a destroyer of American values before he goes. With Trump going, the power and aura of Fox and the Murdochs’ empire (including News Corp) is fading, and there’s a clear sense Fox News is vulnerable.
Confirming the long-rumoured separation between lovebirds Trump and Rupert was a stridently different front page in the New York Post on December 27, imploring Trump to “stop the insanity” and move on from his election defeat in an in-his-face editorial.
The paper was one of the few high-profile publications to endorse Trump over Biden, arguing that four more years of Trump was “the best choice” for the country. Trump, of course, has ignored the Post and has been searching for ways to defeat the will of the American people.
“Unfortunately, you’re obsessed with the next day, January 6, when Congress will, in a pro forma action, certify the electoral college vote,” the Post editorial said. “You have tweeted that, as long as Republicans have ‘courage’, they can overturn the results and give you four more years in office. In other words, you’re cheering for an undemocratic coup.”
After the violence in Washington on January 6, today’s front page was headlined “Capitol Invasion”, with the write-off naming the president directly: “Guns drawn to protect House from mob of Trump supporters.”
Meanwhile, former editor-in-chief Col Allan, the rotund Murdoch courtier who used to run The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, is reported to be returning to Australia. Allan was a strong Trump supporter, and the Post’s coverage reflected that, as did the drivel from Miranda Devine, an Allan favourite from the Tele days and an even bigger fan of the president. But like the Post itself, Devine had an epiphany over Christmas — her first column in January contained this “come to Jesus” paragraph:
Trump’s sabotage of the Georgia runoffs and his rabble-rousing ‘stop the steal’ rally in Washington yesterday were a catastrophe for his followers. They have justified the outlandish criticism of his enemies for the past four years.
The Nine papers report that Allan returns to Sydney with the keys to the White House. You can bet the locks will be changed and the furniture counted after Trump’s reign of ego ends in a few short weeks. Even Allan’s favourite Sydney eatery, Lucio’s of Paddington, has changed hands. He will be adrift, like the Murdochs now find themselves in the power stakes in the US.