Analyst’s word pops News Corp. shares

Conglom in spotlight

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen gave News Corp. shares a boost Wednesday, calling the company one of the most attractive in its sector right now.

The shares popped up $1.50 to close at $35.75, after Reif Cohen put a new 12-month target price of $45 on the media and entertainment conglomerate. Most of its peers ended the day flat or down.

News Corp., she said, provides investors with significant exposure to 83%-owned Fox Entertainment along with its own wide-ranging media properties thrown in virtually for free at the company’s current market valuation. And management, led by chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch, “continually seeks to redeploy capital into new businesses with high growth prospects,” she added.

Reif Cohen predicted News Corp.’s operating income, which has been hurt in recent quarters by difficult year-on-year comparisons with “Titanic” profits, will rise 15% on a pro forma basis in to nearly $1.9 billion in 2000 — a year that will “set the stage for superior operating momentum for several years.”

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