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Foxy questioning confronts Murdoch

The chief executive of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, came under a sustained interrogation from financial analysts yesterday when he hosted a conference call for the media group's full-year results.

The chief executive of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, came under a sustained interrogation from financial analysts yesterday when he hosted a conference call for the media group's full-year results.

The first curveball came from a Deutsche Bank analyst who wanted to know whether the "affiliate fee revenue growth" for the Fox Network could reaccelerate into double digits.

Then came a probing question that the members of the British parliamentary committee into misconduct at News Corp's British operations now wish they should have asked.

"Was there anything unusual?" a Merrill Lynch analyst asked the chief operating officer, Chase Carey. The unusual thing the analyst wanted to know about related to News Corp's relatively strong advertising revenues.

The same analyst then caught News Corp's executive team off-guard with a question about gross and net leverage.

Just as it seemed the hard questions had eased off, another analyst asked Murdoch about the buyback of News Corp stock.

Then came another question about the cash on News Corp's balance sheet. Then another: "Could you talk about the pacing right now of the local O&O [owned and operated] business from what you could see on the small-picture side?" There was then a barrage of questions about the Fox business, the possibility of rationalising the newspaper printing operations, returns on capital and higher cable network costs.

Then, finally, 48 minutes into the call, a Morgan Stanley analyst wanted to know about the one-time costs associated with the "News of the World litigation stuff".

CUT TO CHASE

Fortunately, Murdoch managed to elaborate on the News of the World stuff without the need for any questioning from analysts. "I'm personally determined to put things right when it comes to the News of the World," he said. "There can be no doubt about our commitment to ethics and integrity."

As for speculation about the decision on whether his son James would take over his role, the Sun King said: "I hope that the job won't be open in the near future."

But just in case News Corp needed a new boss fast, Murdoch said the top job would go to his right-hand man Carey. "If anything happened to me, I'm sure he'll get it immediately if I went under a bus."

VALE VALAD

The last rites for the Crap Cap of the property sector, Valad Property Group (aka Invalid), will be given today when a court order will be lodged with ASIC approving a $207 million takeover by Blackstone. Invalid (aka Impotent), which has seen it shares fall 96 per cent from their peak and has produced an impressive $1.7 billion of losses over three years, will cease trading at the end of today.

It seems a long time since Trevor Gerber made his first comments as chairman in the 2008 annual report, when Invalid (aka Vlad the Impaled) shares were worth five times more their present value.

"As Valad's chairman since September 2008, I am fortunate to have the insight and assistance of my other board members who are as determined as I am to help build security holder value," he said.

CASHING OUT

MyATM, an automated teller company which in April farewelled the ex-federal Liberal politician Ross Cameron from its board, cemented its reputation as one of the dud listings of the year by offloading some of its loss-making operations on Tuesday.

MyATM, whose shares have tanked 91 per cent since their January listing, announced it had sold 124 of its Aussie ATM sites to another listed teller company, Customers Limited.

A MyATM announcement on Tuesday said the sold sites did "not necessarily meet the company's 'convenience' model".

MyATM has seen its shares fall from 20? to 1.9? since listing. Cameron, a former parliamentary secretary and Macquarie operative, quit as a director to "devote more time to his other business and personal commitments". MyATM still has the former Liberal pollie Grant Chapman on its board.

Before its listing, MyATM was forced by ASIC to lodge a second prospectus, where it wrote down the value of its largely intangible assets from $22.8 million to $8.5 million.

MyATM's share price performance is even worse than RedHill Education, which has seen its shares plummet 87 per cent since its September 2010 listing.

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