Murdoch touts News Corp.’s fitness

Group not looking for investments, ruling out wide-scale layoffs, mogul sez

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said Thursday that his News Corp. empire is better placed than its rivals to withstand the tough economic environment in the wake of the Sept. 11 U.S. attacks.

Murdoch told shareholders at the annual general meeting in Adelaide, Australia, that he stood by the group’s recently revised profit forecast and pointed to a slight pickup in the gloomy ad market.

“Revenue bookings in the past few weeks for both our TV stations and TV network have been stronger than over the past several months.”

News Channel squeezed

Murdoch warned that conditions remained challenging, noting costs at Fox News Channel had “blown right off budget.” He said the cabler would take a $100 million hit to ad revenues from the attacks. But the group is confident it can recoup a vast chunk of the initial losses and has cut its cost base.

Shares in News Corp., which were trading up 28¢ at about $6.66 when the meeting started, ended up 45¢, or 7.1%, at $6.83, although it remains well below the $9 level it was holding in June and July.

Earlier this month, News Corp. downgraded its earnings expectations for the current fiscal year. It expects earnings growth in the high single to low double digits as ad revs slumped after the terrorist attacks.

Standing pat

Murdoch told reporters the group was not looking at any fresh investments. Tight cost controls for the media group had “cleared the decks” of any potential disasters. He also ruled out wide-scale layoffs.

News Corp.’s film unit saw a strong start to the year and was on track to report 30% growth this fiscal year.

However, earnings at the group’s U.K. newspaper business were expected to be flatter than the 10% originally budgeted.

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