Murdoch split barely causes a ripple for News stock

It was the timing of Rupert Murdoch's divorce news that raised the odd eyebrow in financial markets.

It was the timing of Rupert Murdoch's divorce news that raised the odd eyebrow in financial markets.

The impending split of Mr Murdoch's $70 billion News Corp media empire into two separate businesses, publishing and entertainment, is just 14 days away. The Murdoch family controls 38.4 per cent of News Corp's voting shares and, as his wife, Wendi Deng has a claim over her husband's assets in the event of a divorce.

The question is, what sort of claim? News Corp's share price was higher on Friday, suggesting any prospective legal action from Ms Deng was unlikely to disrupt the demerger. Moreover, News Corp shareholders are expressing more interest in the social aspects than sharemarket consequences of the divorce.

Mitigating the size of Ms Deng's claim will be two key factors, an Australian super fund source said: one, the prenuptial agreement struck when she married Mr Murdoch in 1999 and, two, the structure of the family trust that controls News. Mr Murdoch's six children hold equal shares in the company through the family trust, but only his first four children - Prudence, Lachlan, James and Elisabeth - have the right to appoint trustees for the trust.

In light of these factors, the News stock price, the ultimate barometer of investor sentiment, was 1 per cent higher. News Corp was not commenting on the financial implications of the divorce.

The demerger is slated for June 28 and will entail the Murdoch family taking voting and non-voting stock in the entertainment company 21st Century Fox, and in the publishing company News Corp. The Australian business News Limited, from which Mr Murdoch forged his global enterprise, will form part of the publishing business.

When Murdoch divorced his previous and second wife Anna in 1998, the cost was $US1.7 billion of which $US110 million was in cash.

Despite the prenup with Ms Deng, sources said, any settlement is likely to be much larger. In the past 14 years since Ms Deng and Mr Murdoch have been together, the rally in News Corp shares has turned a $7 billion company into one worth $73 billion, apart from any assets Mr Murdoch might hold elsewhere.

Divorces of this dimension are more akin to large corporate transactions than typical family law matters. Ensuring any settlement is struck on a confidential basis may weigh in Ms Deng's favour in negotiations.

According to The New York Times, Ira Garr of the law firm Garr Silpe will represent Mr Murdoch, and Pamela Sloan of Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan will represent Ms Deng.

The Murdoch divorce coverage in Mr Murdoch's New York newspaper, the New York Post, is not quite so detailed.

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