Al Waleed boosts Murdoch, confident in Parsons
Two U.S. media titans are feeling the love from a billionaire Saudi prince who sought last week to shoo raiders off two of his favorite investments.Prince Al Waleed bin Talal announced in dramatic fashion that he’d boosted his stake in Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp. The prince loaded up on key voting shares in a move that would fortify Rupe in the case of an unwanted advance by Liberty Media’s John Malone. The prince praises Murdoch to the skies and says he’d buy more shares if necessary. In comments from Paris, the jet-setting Al Waleed also placed “full trust and confidence” in Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons, who’s being hounded by corporate raider Carl Icahn over the company’s sluggish stock. Al Waleed says he’d “defer to Mr. Parsons to decide” how best to boost the shares — not to Mr. Icahn. The royal show of support was an upbeat blip, closing out a summer that had most media execs wading through a thicket of thumbs-down from moviegoers and a chorus of groans from Wall Street. While Al Waleed doesn’t make movies, he sure put a shine on News Corp. stock. In fact, the prince, who is ranked fifth on Forbes list of the world’s richest people, has for the past decade been an intrepid supporter of the U.S. media industry. His investments include EuroDisney, which he helped save from bankruptcy at least once, maybe more, and Planet Hollywood. Al Waleed called Liberty’s intentions “murky.” Malone’s company doubled down on News Corp. shares last fall, accumulating a hefty 18% voting stake — second only to the Murdoch family’s chunk of close to 30%. The move took Murdoch by surprise, and the conglom immediately put in place a so-called poison pill provision aimed at thwarting hostile takeovers. Icahn’s Time Warner holding is miniscule in comparison. But he’s brash and dogged and is looking to hook up with other TW shareholders to push the company to do a massive stock buyback and to spin off 100% of its cable business. Not this prince. And, anyway, Icahn is a distant 49th on the Forbes list.