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Glenn Dyer

Murdoch empire borrows US$100m from state-owned Bank of China

In a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do”, the Murdoch family has tapped into a US$100 million loan from a Chinese government bank, at the same time as its global media empire is going to war with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Murdochs have gerrymandered control over two public companies — News Corp and Fox Corp — and ever since COVID hit two years ago their outlets — such as Sky News Australia, The Australian, Fox News and The New York Post — have become virulent critics of the Chinese regime.

However, China has become even more toxic globally in recent weeks given its collaboration with Vladimir Putin, and concerns in Australia have been amplified by its attempts to establish a naval base in the Solomon Islands.

So what should the world make of News Corp’s decision to accept a US$100 million loan from the state-owned Bank of China’s New York branch as part of a massive US$1.25 billion loan package revealed on Thursday? Is it a case of Beijing seeking to influence the Murdochs by stepping up as a key family financier? And should the Murdochs have refused the money, effectively joining the global ESG boycott of Russia in which more than 400 global companies have pulled out or temporarily closed their Russian operations?

The Bank of China is the second biggest player in the 13-bank News Corp syndicate after Bank of America, which is contributing US$111.7 million. The Bank of China is massive — it has an estimated US$3.7 trillion in assets and is the largest and oldest bank on the Chinese mainland.

This 180-page News Corp filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the ASX in Australia contains details of who will be funding the surprisingly large new loan for News Corp. If only ASX-listed companies were required to be this transparent in disclosing who their financiers are.

All Australia’s big four banks are in the News Corp syndicate, but there are no UK banks — with the exception of HSBC. Perhaps the likes of London-based Natwest and Barclays don’t want to be associated with the notorious phone-hacking company which is still paying hundreds of millions to victims, as Crikey reported this week.

CBA, NAB and ANZ are contributing US$28.333 million each to the first tranche of US$500 million. All four are contributing to the second tranche, a US$S700 million revolving credit line, although Westpac is making the smallest contribution, US$27.5 million. CBA, NAB and ANZ are stumping up US$42.5 million each, even though all claim to be committed to serious action on climate change and the Murdoch empire is one of the world’s worst climate denialist outfits.

It seems ESG lending in Australia is increasingly blackballing coalminers but hasn’t yet reached key propagandists such as News Corp.

So why does News Corp need this money. Well, according to the filing it’s for unstated “general corporate purposes” — a big takeover in the offing?

As Crikey reported this time last year, News Corp first went into a net debt position 12 months ago when it committed $1.07 billion to three separate bolt-on acquisitions in one week. However, last August it then announced a much bigger US$1.15 billion cash acquisition of OPIS, the Oil Price Information Service that S&P was forced to sell by US anti-trust regulators. This was partially funded by a US$500 million notes issue in February 2022 — an issue of debt securities to institutional investors rather than borrowing directly from banks.

The December 31 accounts for News Corp show it already had gross borrowings totalling US$2.27 billion, down slightly from US$2.313 billion at June 30. However, this was largely cancelled out by US$2.187 billion of cash holdings.

News Corp’s market capitalisation is US$13.2 billion, so it has capacity to borrow a few billion.

The Fox Corp balance sheet is in slightly worse shape with US$8 billion in gross debt, although this is partially offset by US$4.25 billion in cash, leaving net debt at just US$3.75 billion, against a market capitalisation of US$22 billion.

The Murdochs have a clear majority of their estimated A$30 billion family fortune tied up in Disney shares, although it has no influence over the US$250 billion business. There is also no transparency as to which particular Murdoch family members have hung on to their Disney shares after the US$91 billion sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in March 2019.

Disney is famously prudent and morally conservative. Indeed, the Sky after dark crew last night was lashing the company for being too politically correct with its casting decision and treatment of minorities.

Faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to accept a US$100 million loan from the Bank of China in the current environment, it’s hard to imagine the Disney board agreeing to such a proposition.

But for Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, it was no problem whatsoever — meaning that, as of yesterday, parts of the Murdoch media empire are “partially brought to you by the autocratic dictators in Beijing”. But don’t expect this to be disclosed by News Corp’s anti-China shock jocks any time soon.

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