WHAT is News Corporation really worth? At least 50% more without Rupert Murdoch.
The company, which owns the Fox TV networks and the Wall Street Journal, fell 13% last week after allegations surfaced that one of Mr Murdoch's tabloid newspapers hacked into the voice mail of a murdered schoolgirl, wiping out $7 bn from its market capitalisation in less than two weeks. Compared with its closest rivals, the $41 bn company's stock now sells for less than its earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Valuing its units separately, the New York-based media conglomerate would be worth $62bn to $79bn, estimates from Barclays and Gabelli show, indicating that the company trades at an almost 50% discount to its units.
Mr Murdoch is facing growing scrutiny over his management of the company after the hacking revelations forced him to abandon a takeover of British Sky Broadcasting Group and deepened a slump that has left shareholders with a 16% loss in the past five years even as rivals gained.
"There's just sort of this generic Murdoch discount, which encompasses the concern that he will make decisions that are not consistent with other shareholder interests," says Michael Morris, an analyst at Davenport in the US. "The sum of the parts of News Corporation is huge compared with where the stock trades."
Based on Mr Morris's sum-of- the-parts analysis, the company is worth about $25 a share, 60% higher than its closing price of $15,64 last week.
Its shares dropped 2,6% to $15,23 yesterday in New York. Since the scandal broke, the company's value has fallen about $7bn.
Mr Murdoch and his son James face British MPs today to answer questions about employees paying police for stories, and the US 's Federal Bureau of Investigation began examining whether staff tried to hack into phones of September 11 2001 terrorism victims.
Les Hinton, chairman of News International, the UK publishing unit that included News of the World when the alleged hacking occurred, stepped down as head of the Dow Jones division on Friday. That came hours after the exit of News International CE Rebekah Brooks, who was then arrested by UK police on Sunday.
Ed Miliband, leader of the UK's opposition Labour Party, called on Sunday for Mr Murdoch's media company to be broken up, saying it had too much influence.
Independent directors of the company have begun questioning its response to the crisis and whether a leadership change is needed, said two people with direct knowledge of the situation who would not speak publicly. Some people close to the Murdoch family and the company's directors said last week it would make sense for Mr Murdoch to relinquish his job as CEO and stay on as chairman.
Even if Mr Murdoch were to step down as CEO, he and his family would still control management decisions at News Corporation through its 38% stake in the class B voting shares, Stewart Capital analyst Malcolm Polley said.
"Rupert should go because it's in the best interest of everybody," says Terry Smith, CEO of London-based interdealer broker Tullett Prebon. "The scandal is symptomatic of his business judg ment.
"When a large number of your staff have been involved in criminal activities, normal CEOs of public companies who have to answer to outside shareholders and capital providers are less inclined to sweep it under the carpet," he says.
If the position of the Murdoch family weakens further, chief operating officer Chase Carey may be named as interim CEO, one person close to the family and board says. When announcing Mr Hinton's departure, Mr Murdoch downplayed his own importance to the company he built from two inherited Australian newspapers.
"News Corporation is not Rupert Murdoch," he said. "It is the collective creativity and effort of many thousands of people around the world."
Mr Murdoch's attachment to newspapers, which has contributed to a 28% decline in operating income at News Corporation 's newspapers and information services unit in the past five years, has cost investors billions of dollars. The company's market value has shrunk by $31bn since it offered to pay a 70% premium for Dow Jones in May 2007 . Bloomberg