News Corp. stock hits 52-week high

Wall Street loves looming split, undeterred by hacking scandal

News Corp. has hit a new 52-week high in a buoyant market as Wall street embraces company’s upcoming split and shrugs off a U.K. hacking scandal that has just shaved a million bucks each from Rupert Murdoch’s and James Murdoch’s annual bonuses.

The stock jumped 3.3% to $24.69 at its high Thursday, outpacing the market, which reacted gleefully to a press conference by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on a new plan to help member countries emerge from crisis.

News Corp. stock has had a stellar run despite a steady trickle of arrests related to the phone hacking and some political intrigue that continues to convulse the British media. Investors like the more subdued Rupert Murdoch of late, who’s unlikely to make costly acquisitions and is committed to buying back up to $10 billion in stock. They’re thrilled with a decision this June to split the publishing and entertainment assets into two separate companies.

Barclays media analyst Anthony DiClemente cites the rising value of News Corp.’s sports content, strong domestic affiliate fees and political advertising as well as its international growth. This week he raised his price target to $28. He sees the entertainment biz worth about $24 a share and publishing about $4, which means it’s basically “a free option” at News Corp.’s stock’s current price.

But in a rare wag of the finger, News Corp.’s board voted to cut bonus payments for chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch, COO Chase Carey and CFO David DeVoe as a consequence of the hacking scandal.

The execs “individually and as a group made contributions to drive the overall success of the business, including its financial and strategic objectives. However, the compensation committee balanced this determination with consideration of the impact of the U.K. and related investigations, which have focused on allegations of misconduct occurring prior to fiscal 2012,” the committee said in News Corp. proxy statement filed with the SEC. “The compensation committee believed that management should share responsibility for the impact of these matters,” it added.

A year ago, with the scandal at full frenzy and the News of the World newspaper recently shuttered, James Murdoch declined a $6 million bonus awarded him for fiscal 2011. He was head of international operations, including publishing, based in London, although he’s since returned to New York.

The committee “acknowledged that he was already adversely economically impacted by the U.K. and related investigations.”

Proxies list the salaries of a company’s highest paid execs, which also included new general counsel Gerson Zweifach and Fox chief Roger Ailes.

Base salaries were mostly unchanged. Rupert Murdoch’s total pay package of $30 million (including stocks and other compensation) included a flat $8.1 million in base pay and a bonus of $10.4 million vs. $12.5 million the year before.

Carey’s package was worth $25 million with $4 million in base pay and an $8.3 million bonus, down from $10 million. And James took home $16.8 million with base pay of $3 million and a $5 million bonus.

The board has been criticized for being overly cozy with Rupert Murdoch, who controls nearly 40% of News Corp.’s key voting stock. His staunch ally Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal holds another 7%. This week the company put two new independent directors on its slate, former U.S. secretary of labor Elaine Chao and Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia.

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