Media analysts anticipate cable giant Comcast to respond to the Walt Disney Co.’s sweetened offer for much of 21st Century Fox, as the bidding war escalates for the valuable collection of media properties that mogul Rupert Murdoch built.
Disney raised its offer to $71.3 billion in cash and stock, a 36% increase over its original $52.4 billion bid and a 9% premium over Comcast’s competing all-cash bid of $65 billion. The announcement came as a surprise to some, who expected Fox’s board first to consider Comcast’s higher offer and give Disney the chance to counter.
Now, the ball’s back in Comcast’s court.
“We believe another counteroffer from Comcast for Fox is likely,” wrote UBS analyst John Hodulik, in a sentiment that’s echoed by other media watchers. Indeed, Fox’s shares closed at $48.08 a share today, and continued rising in after-hours trading, suggesting investors expected the bids to top Disney’s current offer of $38 a share.
Hodulik notes that the merger agreement allows Fox to evaluate a competing proposal — and seemingly left the door open to this possibility in opting to postpone the scheduled July 10 shareholder vote on the Disney deal. Comcast could increase its cash offer to up to $45 a share for Fox without loading on too much debt, he wrote.
“As we have said before, we feel confident that this process continues to be very good news for Fox shareholders,” wrote veteran media analyst Michael Nathanson.
Nathanson said Disney is in a strong position to compete with any potential follow-on bid from Comcast, saying the Burbank entertainment giant’s superior balance sheet, better business rationale and clearer regulatory path make it likely to emerge victorious in the bidding war.
“Before, the only outstanding question was whether Disney’s board and management would go to the mat on this transaction,” Nathanson wrote. “We now know, the answer is clearly yes.”
Not everyone is persuaded by CEO Bob Iger’s argument that Fox’s film and television assets would bolster Disney’s efforts to compete with direct-to-consumer streaming services like Netflix.
“In our view, arguing that acquiring Fox will help win the war in the fight for the DTC market is similar to Bob McNamara arguing in 1965 that he could win in Vietnam if he had more troops,” wrote Cowen and Co. entertainment analyst Doug Creutz. “We think both are fundamental misreads of the nature of the conflict.”
Creutz says Disney already has a substantial arsenal in its world-class brands. He wrote that Disney’s true objective might be to bulk up in an effort to fend off an unsolicited acquisition bid by a new media titan, or, simply an opportunity to capitalize on the Trump administration’s seeming indifference to horizontal mergers “as long as no one in Washington is holding a grudge against your news coverage.”
President Trump called Murdoch last December to congratulate him on the Disney deal.