Rupe rallies News Corp.

Topper talks up ad market news

NEW YORK — News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch told shareholders in the company’s annual report that ad markets “have demonstrated a significant improvement” in recent weeks, although he wishes the share price would reflect the conglom’s relatively strong financial position and prospects.

“Like you, I am frustrated with the underperformance of our stock during the past fiscal year,” he said in the report.

News Corp. stock moved higher in upbeat New York trading Friday, rising 3.1% to $20.94 — still well off a 52-week high of more than $33. Other media shares surged, with Vivendi up 14.3% to $12.99 and AOL Time Warner up 8.4% to $13.13.

Investors have traditionally been wary of News Corp., viewing it as a family-run enterprise more attuned to the ambitions of its chairman than to creating shareholder value. That feeling has started to shift recently, and a number of Wall Street analysts have “buy” ratings on the stock. But it’s apparently a slow process.

Schooling investors

“I and other members of our senior management team spent considerable time this past year educating the marketplace about our fundamental shareholder value in the hope that with a market rebound will come a rebound in our stock price to levels that more accurately reflect our true position,” Murdoch said.

News Corp., whose fiscal year ends in June, reported last month a 10% boost in revenue for the year and operating income up 11%. A hefty write-down for the value of its investment in Gemstar resulted in a big net loss.

Company, parent of 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News and a stable of international newspaper and satellite assets, has less debt and more cash than most of its peers and, Murdoch said, “is operating at full strength and to the best of our integrated abilities.”

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