Cowen & Co’s Doug Creutz shouldn’t expect Rupert Murdoch to call today and thank him for upgrading News Corp stock to the equivalent of “buy.” The analyst is optimistic because he sees a 25% chance that the UK phone hacking and police bribery scandals will end Murdoch’s reign — and lead the stock to pop. Creutz says that his main problem with News Corp is that with deals like the $5B acquisition of Dow Jones “the company has been run with an eye towards empire-building and with little regard to creation of shareholder value.” He’s also concerned about “the culture at News Corp which seems to encourage business practices that are close to, and have at some times crossed …the line of acceptable behavior, putting the company and share valuation at risk.” Murdoch’s effort to remain CEO reminds Creutz of Michael Eisner’s struggle in 2005 to stay at Disney. Although Murdoch controls 40% of News Corp’s voting shares, a power that Eisner didn’t enjoy, the former Disney chief didn’t face “the full power and wrath of a first-world government that is arguably fighting for its life.”
Still, Creutz still sees a 70% chance that the scandal will result in no change in control and no lasting damage to News Corp’s businesses. In that case he says the stock might recover from the 10% decline in July as the scandal unfolded. The analyst sees just a 5% chance of what he calls the “nightmare scenario” that would involve “a spread of the scandal’s toxicity to the U.S., combined with a decision by Murdoch to hang on to the bitter end, and a significant dereliction of duty by the board of directors.” News Corp shares rose 1.1% on Wednesday.
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