Comcast challenges Disney for control of 21st Century Fox assets

The Twenty-First Century Fox sign outside of the News Corporation headquarters building in New York. Comcast says it’s considering making an offer to buy Twenty-First Century Fox, which would put it in a head-to-head bidding fight with Disney. (AP)
Updated 23 May 2018
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Comcast challenges Disney for control of 21st Century Fox assets

NEW YORK: A full-fledged bidding war for key assets of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox erupted Wednesday as media and cable giant Comcast announced it plans an all-cash bid that would top an offer already on the table from Walt Disney Co.
Comcast said it is in “advanced stages of preparing” the offer for the television and entertainment assets Fox agreed to sell to Disney in a $52.4 billion stock deal announced in December.
Comcast, which owns the NBCUniversal media-entertainment group and is the largest US cable operator, said it was prepared to pay more than Disney for the operations, which don’t include Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, Fox Broadcasting and major sports channels.
“Any offer for Fox would be all-cash and at a premium to the value of the current all-share offer from Disney,” the Comcast statement said.
“The structure and terms of any offer by Comcast, including with respect to both the spin-off of ‘New Fox’ and the regulatory risk provisions and the related termination fee, would be at least as favorable to Fox shareholders as the Disney offer.”
Either deal would dramatically reshape the media-entertainment landscape and scale back the Fox empire created by the 87-year-old Murdoch.
Murdoch, who with his family controls 21st Century Fox, agreed to the tie-up in December that would give Disney the famed Fox studios in Hollywood along with Fox’s international TV operations and US cable entertainment and regional sports channels.
Included in the sale is Fox’s 39 percent stake in the British pay TV operator Sky. Murdoch has sought full control of Sky but has faced opposition from regulators in Britain.
Separately, Comcast last month made an offer of $30.7 billion in cash for Sky, in a move welcomed by the British firm.
Some reports said Murdoch had previously rejected an offer from Comcast. But the controlling family and shareholders would face pressure if the new offer is better than the one from Disney.
Fox had no immediate comment on the Comcast statement. But in its most recent earnings call, co-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch said that “we are committed to our agreement with Disney” and that board members “are aware of their fiduciary duties on behalf of all shareholders.”
Analyst Richard Greenfield at BTIG Research predicted last month that Comcast would offer “a 25 percent premium to Disney’s bid” in an effort to win the deal.
“While a Comcast acquisition of Fox is surely challenging financially, Comcast has never shied away from a challenge,” the analyst wrote.
Either deal could face intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators because of the implications for the television and cinema sectors.
A tie-up with Disney would create giant a with up to 40 percent of US box office revenues, according to some estimates.
Comcast’s Universal studios is smaller than Disney’s but could vault to the top of the market by adding 20th Century Fox.
Either Comcast or Disney would gain global stature in the TV sector with Sky, the pan-European broadcaster with operations in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Spain. Comcast operates the NBC broadcast network while Disney owns ABC, and both have multiple cable channels.
The move comes with Murdoch gradually withdrawing from the empire he built, giving more authority to his sons Lachlan and James.
The group announced last week that Lachlan Murdoch would assume the role of chairman and chief executive at the “new” Fox, which would be tightly focused around the Fox News Channel and sports cable channels.
The consolidation in the sector comes with traditional operators facing pressure from online and tech platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, which are shaking up the model of pay TV deliver as well as the studio system for content production.
Another pending deal that would join telecom and broadband giant AT&T with media-entertainment group Time Warner is being challenged by the US Justice Department in an antitrust suit. A judge is expected to rule in that case next month.


Sri Lanka calls for global coalition to tackle rising dollar

Updated 23 October 2018
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Sri Lanka calls for global coalition to tackle rising dollar

  • The island’s currency bottomed out at a record-low 174.12 rupees to the dollar
  • The rupee has shed more than 12 percent of its value this year and Sri Lanka fears it could slide further

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Tuesday called for a “coalition of the willing” to help stabilize free-falling emerging market currencies around the globe, as the beleaguered rupee slumped to fresh lows.
The island’s currency bottomed out at a record-low 174.12 rupees to the dollar, resisting a slew of measures by policymakers to arrest its steady decline.
The rupee has shed more than 12 percent of its value this year and Sri Lanka fears it could slide further as US sanctions squeeze Iran, the island’s chief source of oil.
A stronger dollar has made it difficult for emerging markets to repay debts and battered global currencies from Turkey to India and Argentina.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera invited those nations experiencing currency crises to visit Colombo and hash out a strategy.
“The rise of the dollar is having a serious impact on our currencies. We are not the only one affected,” he told reporters in the Sri Lankan capital.
“I want to build a coalition of the willing to deal with this problem. I don’t see the global situation improving any time soon.”
Washington pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May and has been reimposing punishing sanctions on the Islamic republic, targeting in particular its financial system.
Iran not only supplies Sri Lanka with most of its oil, but is one of its chief buyers of the island’s celebrated tea.
Samaraweera has warned that blockading Iran will have ripple on effects on Sri Lanka, which has been unable to stop the rupee from nose diving.
Last month, Colombo curbed its state institutions and public servants from importing cars to reduce the outflow of foreign capital.
Banks were also ordered to restrict lending for purchasing overseas and consumer goods, but the rupee has continued its decline.
In August, the government substantially increased taxes on small cars to discourage imports, but officials said there was still pressure on foreign exchange reserves to finance big-ticket imports.