Turnover at Fox gives Wall Street the willies

The executive turnover at Fox isn’t going over well on Wall Street.

Fox parent News Corp. was one of the largest losers on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday on the announcement of Fox Broadcasting Co. prez/chief operating officer Jamie Kellner’s departure.

The stock plummeted $ 2.50 to close at $ 37.875, losing 6.2% of its value during the day. Nearly 11 million shares changed hands, more than three times typical volume.

The run on News Corp., say observers, was clearly sparked by concern about top Hollywood management turnover under chairman Rupert Murdoch. Since last February, Fox chairman Barry Diller, Fox News president Stephen Chao, 20th Century Fox chairman Joe Roth and 20th Century Fox production president Roger Birnbaum have all walked or, in Chao’s case, been fired.

“The issue of most concern is that this is the fourth senior executive to leave in a year,” said one analyst. “One was fired, but all have been critical to the success of Fox.”

If there’s a bright side to the situation, it was the replacement of Kellner with Lucie Salhany.

“Lucie is phenomenal. She’s the perfect choice,” said a Wall Street analyst. “That will somewhat soften the negative impact.”

The market’s swift and severe reaction, however, can’t be ignored. By comparison, when Diller left unexpectedly, the stock dropped $ 1, or 4%. At the time, analysts reasoned that the company was in healthy shape and would rebound quickly.

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