Malone Ups Stake in NewsCorp -- With Hostile Intent?

23 January 2004

US cable entrepreneur John C Malone on Wednesday struck without warning. His investment vehicle, Liberty Media Corporation, upped its voting stake in News Corporation to 9.15%, making it the largest voting shareholder after the Murdoch clan which controls 30% of voting shares.

However, it is difficult, even for those working within the sharetrading jungle, to establish exactly how much power this confers on Malone -- due to the labyrinthine nature of the deal and the complexities of voting and non-voting stock.

Prior to the raid, Liberty owned a total of 26 million NewsCorp Voting ADSs, upping this on January 21 by an additional 22m Voting ADSs plus a hedge on 38m Voting ADSs.

The stock market raid (of which NewsCorp learned only after a Liberty press statement Wednesday) makes Malone's company the largest equity shareholder in the global media giant, with an overall holding of 17% bolstered by a large number of nonvoting shares.

According to an informant, described by the New York Times as "a longtime media executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity", the move is patently hostile.

"It is shocking that the transaction would take place without a phone call from Malone to Murdoch," opined the masked man. It is, he says, unthinkable Malone would increase his stake so radically for any but bellicose reasons.

Commenting on the deal, Liberty president/ceo Robert Bennett was in bland mode: "We have capitalized on an opportunity to exchange non-voting shares for voting shares at attractive prices to become the second largest voting block in one of the world's premier media companies."

Malone and Murdoch are said to be friendly, although there have been instances of friction between them, not least when they found themselves eyeball-to-eyeball for the hand of DirecTV.

Neither of the media magnates was available for comment on the raid.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff