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Big Rescues Must Work Because Smart People Care!

It is well known that smart people—particularly the subset of the intelligent sometimes called intellectuals—tend to overrate the role of intelligence in providing solutions to social problems. This was on display in lurid colors in Gretchen Morgenson’s Sunday column in the New York Times lamenting the lack of “an intelligent and comprehensive plan for dealing with mass foreclosures and the economic consequences associated with the [credit crash] debacle.”
Morgenson goes to great lengths to draw comparisons to New York City’s bankruptcy crisis in the midseventies—which, as she says, was avoided in part by a cabal of government officials and bankers conspiring to refinance the city’s teetering debt structure. But she goes too far in reading a greater lesson into this story. It becomes almost a fairy tale of intellectualism, in which well intentioned intellectuals swoop in from their glass and steel perches to rescue capitalism from its tendency toward anarchy. The idea that no rescue plan outside of permitting market processes to operate is available is reduced to “doing nothing.” A better way must be available because “America is full of smart and caring people!”
We’re second to no one in our appreciation of the smart and caring—we’re not supposed to call them the “best and the brightest” anymore—Inhabiting these Untied States. Unfortunately, we have stubborn memories that insist on recalling the fact that the mortgage crisis that set off the broader credit crisis has its origins in the plans of the smart and caring to expand homeownership beyond the levels established through market processes. Perhaps its time to give “doing nothing” a chance.
Big Rescues Can Work. Just Ask New York. [New York Times]

Journal Reporters Bewail Sale

Rupert Murdoch New York Times Wall Street Journal.jpgWall Street Journal reporters are in mourning today after the Bancroft family sold their souls to the News Corp Murdochracy for $5bn. “It’s sad. We held a wake. We stood around a pile of Journals and drank whiskey,” one writer said.
The Journal’s Managing editor, Marcus Brauchli (whose job, it should be noted, was secured during those interminable negotiations for “editorial independence”) tried to cheer up the troops this morning, sending around an internal memo with such heartrending reassurances as, “Our journalism defines the Journal,” and “It is too early to know how or even whether News Corp. ownership might alter priorities or structures at Dow Jones.”
For the time being, he’s probably right.

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  • 31 Jul 2007 at 2:04 PM
  • Dow

NewsCorp-Dow Jones Deal Imminent

Rupert Murdoch New York Times Wall Street Journal.jpgIt’s finally pretty much almost over. Rupert Murdoch has secured enough Bancroft family shareholder votes to move forward with his $60-a-share, $5bn bid, one future News Corp holding reports.
One day after a Murdoch spokesperson said the deal was “highly unlikely,” the Denver branch of the Bancroft family, previously holding out for a higher offer, capitulated, giving News Corp at least 32% of the family vote. Nonetheless, one Bancroft family spokesperson said today, “Any suggestion that the process has been completed and/or that a particular level of support has been established is at this point premature.”
Both companies have board meetings this evening to formulate the take-over procedure. Dow Jones is trading up 7.04% to $57.50 today.
News Corp. Appears to Have Enough Votes to Clinch Deal [Wall Street Journal]
Murdoch Seen to Win Control of Dow Jones [NY Times]

  • 30 Jul 2007 at 2:33 PM
  • Bancroft

News Corp-Dow Jones Deal “Highly Unlikely”

NEWSCORPDOWJONESRUPERTMURDOCHWALLSTREETJOURNALSMALL.JPGRupert Murdoch’s bid for Dow Jones, once a sure thing, then “too close to call,” is now “highly unlikely” unless the Bancroft family increases its support of the deal by 5 p.m. today, the Wall Street Journal reports.
At the moment, 28% of Dow Jones’ voting power supports the deal, although it is unclear what percentage of Bancrofts voted affirmatively; 30% of the family needs to support Murdoch for his $5bn bid to go through. If this is not met, “News Corp likely wouldn’t take the deal to a full Dow Jones shareholder vote.”
After all the mud-slinging and Rupe’s cryptic commentary, this summer’s saga could come to a close tonight, in which case I will have no idea what to write about.
News Corp. Says It’s ‘Highly Unlikely’ To Buy Dow Jones at Current Count [Wall Street Journal]

  • 27 Jul 2007 at 4:11 PM
  • Bancroft

Colorado Bancrofts Say No To News Corp

NEWSCORPDOWJONESRUPERTMURDOCHWALLSTREETJOURNALSMALL.JPGTwo days after the contentious Bancroft family powwow in Boston, the Denver branch of the family announced it will vote against News Corp’s $5bn bid for Dow Jones, insisting that Rupert Murdoch raise his offer by $120-240mn. The Denver trust controls 9.1% of the Bancroft’s voting power, but has been watched closely by News Corp and Dow Jones management. “The outcome has been seen as too close to call, although the Denver trust’s decision increases doubts about the deal’s prospects,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Colorado Bancrofts want a 10-20% premium on compensation for super-voting B class shareholders (The Bancrofts) although News Corp spokespeople insist that the Murdoch will not raise the bid and that a two tiered compensation is not tenable.
Key Bancroft Family Trust to Vote Against News Corp. Bid for Dow Jones [Wall Street Journal]

  • 25 Jul 2007 at 2:17 PM
  • Bancroft

Bancrofts Fight It Out In Boston

NEWSCORPDOWJONESRUPERTMURDOCHWALLSTREETJOURNALSMALL.JPGA Bancroft wrangle over NewsCorp’s bid for Dow Jones ended in stalemate yesterday after emotional harangues from opposing factions, the Wall Street Journal reports. The meeting, in the Boston Hilton was so grueling that, “after four hours of discussion, family members were so hungry that they made do with a tray of stale danishes.”

Interviews with more than a dozen family members, outside advisers, lawyers and others involved in the process suggest that the outcome remains too close to call. What has seemed to many analysts like a logical move — accepting a $60-a-share bid for a company whose shares previously had been trading in the mid-30s — is still in question amid the deep emotions the bid has stirred. Participants said more doubts about a News Corp. deal were apparent at the end of the six-hour session than at the beginning.

On several occasions Bancrofts “held back tears” as they extolled the merits of an independent editorial board. One prominent Rupe resister, Jane Cox MacElree, seemed even to make the distressing “Daniel-Pearle-would-have-wanted-it-this-way” argument. Another opposing force claimed that the company was worth more than Murdoch’s offer of $60-a-share and that the family shouldn’t accept anything below $66.
Although only 30% of the Bancrofts’ voting power must endorse Murdoch’s proposal for it to go through, investors are becoming increasingly unsure that the deal is a sure thing, Dow stock is currently trading at $54.01, down from as high as $61.20 in June.
It looks like the interminable saga will continue for now, maybe even into August.
Relative Uncertainty [Wall Street Journal]

  • 23 Jul 2007 at 10:54 AM
  • Bancroft

The Bancroft Ownership Mystery

NEWSCORPDOWJONESRUPERTMURDOCHWALLSTREETJOURNALSMALL.JPGOff to a slow start here this morning because of the rain in New York City. We had to wait for our interwebs to dry out. (Just like Alphaville, the deal blog at Financial Times, which has reportedly had trouble due to the flooding in England. Unless that’s just Brit-speak for, uhm, one too many pints on Sunday night.)
But it’s back to business now. And by “business” we mean, of course, the saga of Rupert Murdoch, the Bancroft family and the Wall Street Journal.
One of the things we’re sure has been absolutely frustrating to anyone who has been following the endless tape of this story has been the complete lack of information about which members of the Bancroft family and its representatives control exactly which shares and which percentage of the votes. It was only at the middle of last week that we learned that Michael Elefante, the partner at the Boston law firm Hemenway & Barnes who is a trustee for two of the largest trusts holding shares for the family, can deliver a little less than half of the family’s 64% voting stake. Let’s call that 30% of the total voting power of the company.
Today the New York Times reports that the leader of the opposition to Murdoch within the family, Christopher Bancroft, controls around 14.5 percent of the total Dow Jones shareholder vote as of January. And his cousin, Jane Cox MacElree, is running around with 14.8 percent. (Apparently no-one else has more than 4.3%.) But you have to read a bit between the lines of the Times—too often the stuff we really want to know apparently isn’t “fit to print”—to understand why they spend so much time talking about Chris and so little talking about Jane. It’s because Jane isn’t really involved with the Dow Jones stuff, and leaves the decision making to Chris. So you can count her shares as shares controlled by Chris. That gives him around a little more than 30% of the voting power of the company, or about what Elephante controls. To that you can add the “Never Murdoch” shares controlled by the Ottaway family to come up with a 36% opposed number.
In short, going into today’s big Boston Bancroft powwow, Murdoch is a bit behind. Probably at least 36% of the voting power of Dow Jones opposes him. He’s got 30% on his side. But Murdoch has a secret weapon: the 30% or so of the voting power vesting in shares that were once held by the general public and are now held by stock arbitrageurs, the Bancrofts, the Ottaways and a few people who aren’t paying any attention. Most of those shares will vote his way. To play it safe, let’s put that pro-Murdoch number at around 25%.
Which gives Murdoch right around 55% of the voting power of the company. Since he only needs 51%, that means he wins. But it’s close. And since we’ve been guestimating at a few of the crucial numbers, it’s possible that it’s even closer than this. If the numbers are shifted a couple points in the only direction—say, Elefante only has around 28% of the vote in his pocket and only 22% votes held by common shareholders go for Murdoch, he’s down to a losing 50%.
Which leaves us at the exciting possibility that we may be entering the rare situation where a very few amount of votes—perhaps those held by a small shareholder who doesn’t even remember he has the shares in his account (or his attic)—could swing the voting. In short, the Bancrofts may be meeting in Boston in 2008. But the voting may well be in Florida, 2000 territory.
A Family Meets Today to Hear the Complexities of a Bid for Dow Jones [New York Times]
Bancrofts To Consider Murdoch Bid, ‘Close Vote’ Predicted [New York Sun]
Know Your Bancrofts [New York Magazine]