News Corp. bid for Dow Jones on brink as deadline passes

August 1, 2007 - 0:0

NEW YORK (AFP) -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. awaited a decision from the family that controls Dow Jones & Co. on its five-billion-dollar offer for the company and its crown asset, The Wall Street Journal.

A reported deadline for members of the Bancroft family -- which controls 64 percent of Dow Jones's voting power -- to voice their agreement to the deal came and went on Monday with no public announcement.
As the clock ticked, News Corp. said it was ""highly unlikely"" it would proceed with its 60-dollar-a-share offer for Dow Jones at the reported present level of support of the controlling Bancroft family.
""If the votes were to remain at present reported levels, it is highly unlikely that we would proceed the offer,"" a News Corp. spokesperson, who requested anonymity, told AFP.
But in its online edition, the Journal said Tuesday the two sides had moved closer to a deal as some Bancroft family advisers and Dow Jones board members ""scrambled for enough votes to ensure the sale of the publisher to News Corp.""
""Everyone is sticking to their guns in the hope that Murdoch will come up with more money,"" one person involved in the process was quoted as saying.
News Corp. has scheduled a board meeting Tuesday at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) ""and a decision by the company on whether to proceed and seek a full Dow Jones shareholder vote to approve a deal is expected to come then, if not sooner,"" the Journal said.
The Bancroft family, which has controlled Dow Jones for more than a century, wield their power through a complex web of trusts and are sharply split over Murdoch's hostile bid.
The 60-dollars-a-share offer represents a huge premium over the share price just prior to the offer made three months ago, but some family members are concerned that a takeover by News Corp. would damage the integrity of Dow Jones's businesses, including the Journal, the leading U.S. business daily.
Investors appeared to bet against a deal. Shares in Dow Jones shed 5.28 percent to close at 51.56 dollars, well below Murdoch's 60-dollar bid. News Corp. gained 0.79 percent at 22.84 dollars.
One issue complicating the negotiations was an unusual proposal by Dow Jones to create a fund to cover payments to firms advising the Bancroft family, which could come to ""at least"" 30 million dollars, the Journal reported, quoting unnamed sources.
Meanwhile, Internet entrepreneur Brad Greenspan, the founder of the social networking website MySpace, renewed his alternative offer backed by five investors who were ready to inject 600 million dollars to develop Dow Jones.
Michael Elefante, the Bancroft family's lead trustee, gave members who wish to support the News Corp. offer a 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) deadline to present him with individual votes, the Journal reported Monday.
Elefante indicated to some Dow Jones board members late Sunday that he has slightly less than the 30 percent of the overall vote, while News Corp. probably needs family votes representing about 30 percent of the overall vote to succeed, the newspaper said.
As of late Monday, about 28 percent of the family votes supported the deal, it said.
Common shareholders representing 29 percent of the overall voting shares of the company are expected to vote for the deal overwhelmingly, ""thereby ensuring a majority,"" it said.
In addition to The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones publishes Barron's and SmartMoney magazines, MarketWatch, DowJones Newswires, Dow Jones Indexes and the Ottaway group of community newspapers.
Murdoch's offer, made privately to the board on April 17 and announced on May 1, marked a 65 percent premium over the Dow Jones share price prior to the offer. If accepted, 1.2 billion dollars would go directly to the Bancroft family.
Elefante is facing pressure from some of his partners at Hemenway & Barnes, the Boston law firm that manages most of the family's trusts, to demand more for the family's super-voting shares, the Journal reported Monday.
A source close to Murdoch said he is comfortable dropping the bid if the family does not accept his current offer, the newspaper said.
Murdoch is racing to acquire Dow Jones ahead of the planned October 15 launch of a News Corp. business news cable television channel, Fox Business Network, in the United States.
The channel will increase News Corp.'s U.S. cable offerings, which already include Fox News Channel.
Murdoch's other assets include the Times of London, Britain's Sun tabloid, The Australian, The New York Post, and the Star network, an Asia-based satellite broadcaster