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Apple valued at $700bn as shares close at record high

Optimism on new iPhone and hopes on cash repatriation propel group past its 2015 level

by: in San Francisco

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Apple stock hit a new all-time high on Monday, driven by investor optimism that the launch of a new iPhone later this year will spark a sales “supercycle” and hopes that the company’s $230bn in overseas cash might soon be put to greater use.

It has taken two years for Apple to surpass its record closing price of $133 in February 2015, despite briefly breaking above that level during intraday trading at $134.54 in April of that year. The shares closed at $133.29 on Monday, valuing the company at $700bn. Apple shares have risen by more than 15 per cent so far in 2017 and by more than 40 per cent in the past year. The iPhone maker overtook arch-rival Samsung to become the top-selling smartphone maker in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to several researchers. 

Apple’s valuation has increased by more than 1,000 per cent in a decade. After the stock’s four-year surge following the release of the second-generation iPhone in 2008, Apple investors have had a more turbulent ride under chief executive Tim Cook since 2012, amid recurring doubts about his ability to maintain the series of innovations and growth seen under co-founder Steve Jobs. Now, after briefly losing its crown as the world’s most valuable company to Silicon Valley rival Alphabet a year ago, investors are turning back to Apple as a high-yielding, slower-growing bet on the smartphone’s continuing domination of the technology industry. 

Quarterly earnings at the end of January beat Wall Street’s expectations, prompting several analysts to raise their estimates for how much higher the stock could go. Many on Wall Street are pinning their hopes on a “supercycle” of consumers upgrading their iPhones when the next model arrives in September. Goldman Sachs’ price-target rise to $150 on Monday helped propel the stock to its new high, as it predicted a “significant step-up in innovation” with the next iPhone. That smartphone is expected to be a more radical departure from its predecessors than the past two updates, with a brand new design featuring an edge-to-edge organic light-emitting diode screen, and wireless charging, as well as new “augmented reality” features. 

This month, Apple joined the Wireless Charging Consortium, signalling its wider commitment to a technology that it first used in its Apple Watch. Mr Cook told The Independent newspaper in an interview last week that he sees AR — that allows digital images to be intermingled with the real world, either through a handset’s camera or a headset — as a “big idea like the smartphone” that could appeal to “everyone”. “I think AR is that big, it’s huge,” Mr Cook said. Goldman analysts said in Monday’s note: “Augmented reality could be the new killer app to reinvigorate upgrade demand for premium smartphones and in particular the iPhone.” 

After Apple reported better than expected earnings last month, Morgan Stanley also raised its price target to $150, in part because of strength in Apple’s services business, which could lift overall profit margins in the coming years. Around the same time, Citi lifted its target to $140, given stronger-than-expected iPhone sales and pricing for the holiday quarter. “In our view, Apple remains one of the most under-appreciated stocks in the world,” said Brian White at Drexel Hamilton in a recent note. Apple’s quarterly regulatory filing revealed that advanced purchase commitments with suppliers rose 16 per cent year on year, which some analysts took as a signal of stronger revenue growth ahead.

UBS said it was the largest increase since September 2015, coming after four quarters of declines, and “somewhat surprising” given expectations of “flat-to-down” hardware sales for the March quarter. Further boosting the share price is that many investors are hoping a tax holiday under the Trump administration would allow the iPhone maker to repatriate some of its $230bn offshore cash pile. Those funds could then be used to increase its capital return programme, which has already pledged to return $250bn to shareholders by March 2018. Of that, more than $200bn has been paid out to date, Apple said last week, including $15bn in dividends and share buybacks in the last quarter. 

Apple pays out about 22 per cent of its free cash flow, according to a recent note by RBC Capital Markets, a figure its analysts say could be increased to more than 50 per cent, attracting a “host of new investors”. 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.  

Murdoch & Sons: Lachlan, James and Rupert’s $62bn empire

As the world’s most influential media mogul nears his 86th birthday, his sons have stepped up to steer the family business. But can they ever escape their father’s shadow?

On a cold winter morning last month, James Murdoch took to the stage at a digital media conference in a skyscraper overlooking Central Park and sat down on a beige sofa. The room was packed — members of the Murdoch family tend to draw a crowd. Dressed in the media CEO uniform of jeans, suit jacket and open-necked white shirt, he deftly parried questions about the political leanings of the Fox News Channel. Asked if the network was, as its slogan claims, “fair and balanced” — a question that elicited some giggles from the audience — Murdoch pointed to the difference between its news reporting and its opinion shows, where conservative warriors such as Bill O’Reilly command big primetime audiences.

If Rupert Murdoch’s second son was nervous about the multibillion-pound deal he had been secretly putting together — a deal that would reignite a political storm dating back to the 2011 tabloid phone-hacking scandal — he certainly didn’t show it.

Less than 48 hours later the news was out: 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company run by James and jointly chaired by his elder brother, Lachlan, and their father, announced an £11.7bn proposal to buy the 61 per cent of Sky that it didn’t already own. Critics ranging from former Labour leader Ed Miliband to Hacked Off, the press reform pressure group, immediately spoke out against it, citing the behaviour of Murdoch-owned tabloids during the phone-hacking scandal. The Guardian ran an editorial with the headline: “The fox is in the henhouse again”, and more than 100,000 people signed a petition urging the government to refer the proposed takeover to Ofcom, the UK media regulator. “Rupert Murdoch . . . already has too much influence over our news,” the petition stated. 

“This new power grab would give him even more.”

This is the second time the Murdochs have tried to buy all of Sky, having withdrawn their first bid almost six years ago in the face of public outrage around the hacking scandal. It is unclear if they will succeed this time around, although executives inside Fox are privately confident. What is more certain is that a gradual transfer of power from Rupert Murdoch to his sons, a process that began when he gave them big new jobs in the summer of 2015, is picking up pace.

When Fox confirmed a week after the Business Insider conference that it had made a formal offer to Sky about a takeover, it was James and Lachlan who laid out the company’s plans on a call with investors: Rupert, the press baron who founded British Sky Broadcasting in 1989, was absent. When the former Fox News presenter Gretchen Carlson sued the channel’s chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment last summer, it was James and Lachlan who swiftly authorised an independent investigation by an outside law firm into the allegations — something that led to Ailes being forced out of the network he had founded 20 years earlier. Rupert, returning from a holiday with his new wife Jerry Hall, joined the discussions later. 

This is not to say that the 85-year-old Rupert has detached himself from the empire he spent more than half a century assembling. In some respects, he has more direct involvement now than he has had in years. He has been running Fox News since Ailes’s departure (a permanent successor has yet to be found) and was also closely involved in coverage of the Brexit campaign at The Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily newspaper. Still, 18 months after he began the orderly transfer of power to his sons (there was no official role for Elisabeth, his daughter) James and Lachlan, 44 and 45, are making their mark.

The brothers oversee an enviable collection of businesses — a movie studio, cable channels and a publishing house worth a combined $62bn. But that does not mean they have nothing to worry about. 

Their newspapers have been walloped by an industry-wide collapse in print advertising, while Fox’s television networks are grappling with the “cord-cutting” phenomenon — the cancellation of pricey cable subscriptions by a generation that prefers binge-watching on demand. For owners of channels such as Fox that means fewer viewers and pressure on advertising.

The competition is also beefing up. Time Warner, one of Fox’s main rivals and the owner of HBO, CNN and Warner Bros, has agreed a blockbuster $85.4bn sale to AT&T, which will create a giant that dwarfs Fox. If it is cleared by regulators, the combined company will be able to deliver Time Warner movies and TV programming direct to more than 160 million AT&T customers around the US — something Fox is currently unable to do.

Add these challenges to the scrutiny and opposition that their Sky deal will generate and the younger Murdochs find themselves in a challenging environment. Their father overcame considerable obstacles to become the world’s most influential media mogul, battling political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic and making risky bets along the way, buying The Sun, launching Sky and Fox News, to name but three. The question now facing James and Lachlan is this: do they have what it takes to fill his shoes?

Like any family, the Murdochs have had their share of rows. The difference is that the Murdochs control a vast array of global businesses and brands, so, if and when they fall out, the stakes are somewhat higher. “It’s like Game of Thrones,” says one person who knows them well. “Or The Hunger Games.”

In 2005, Lachlan abruptly left a senior position in New York running News Corp’s television stations and moved to Australia. The catalyst for his departure may have been Rupert siding with Roger Ailes over him in a programming-related matter. The decision would not have been taken lightly: his exit appeared to end his chances of one day succeeding his father. Rupert had once remarked that of all his children, Lachlan was his most likely successor because, “He was the one who was always most interested . . . when he was a 13-year-old kid, he worked as an apprentice with the printers in the pressroom, cleaning all the oil and the grease off the press.”

When Lachlan returned to Australia, he embarked on several new business ventures — including investing in Nova Entertainment, a radio group. He had started his career in Australia in the mid-1990s, where he learnt the ropes at News Corp’s print and broadcast operations. Then, in 2000, he led an investment by News Corp in REA, an Australia-based real estate listings company. The company later increased its stake to 61 per cent, paying a total of about $100m. Today, News Corp’s investment is worth more than $3.3bn.

With a tribal tattoo on his left forearm, Lachlan is not as buttoned-up as the typical corporate executive. Passionate about photography, mountain climbing and the great outdoors, he returned to Fox in 2015 after a decade in Australia, driving on to the company’s studio lot in Los Angeles in a pick-up truck.

According to Peter Macourt, the former chief operating officer of News Corp Australia who worked closely with him in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lachlan shares many traits with his father. “They are both very open and like to get people’s views,” he says. Lachlan wasn’t someone to rush around barking orders. “It was always a two-way conversation rather than a dictatorial way of approaching management.”

There has always been a competitive streak to Lachlan and James, who are 15 months apart in age, but close observers say there have been no real fireworks since James was made Fox chief executive and Lachlan chairman (alongside his father) in the summer of 2015. “I don’t think they are close but I don’t think they are fighting,” says one. A colleague puts it more bluntly. James and Lachlan “are figuring out how to get along. It’s not a secret that they are not big fans of each other.” One person close to Fox insists the brothers’ relationship is good. “The family had some complicated issues years ago but are in a great place now.”

James did not always seem destined for a career in the family business. He attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he contributed to The Harvard Lampoon magazine, writing a comic strip called Albrecht the Atypical Hun. He left before finishing his degree and started Rawkus Records with two friends: the label, located between a falafel restaurant and a porn shop in New York’s Tribeca district, would claim a place in hip-hop folklore because of the role it played in launching several top acts, including Mos Def and Talib Kweli. News Corp ultimately acquired Rawkus and, while James no longer has any direct involvement in it, he continues to be interested in hip-hop. He raved to me about Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed hip-hop musical, shortly after its Broadway debut in 2015 and urged friends and colleagues to see it. 

Jason Hirschhorn, who now runs the MediaREDEF news letter, first met James Murdoch at Horace Mann School in New York. “His first day on the bus he had a shaved head and an earring,” he tells me. “He was reading Catcher in the Rye and wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers.” The two bonded over a shared love of sneakers and are friends to this day: Hirschhorn, who has worked at MTV and was co-chairman of MySpace, says James understands that content and distribution “are being married together” and that Fox content “has to be where the audience is”.

The brothers may have the top two jobs at Fox but it was their older sister, Elisabeth, who was once the favourite to get a big role running the family businesses. The 48-year-old is a seasoned executive and founded Shine, the independent television group behind MasterChef, which was later acquired by Fox. Her father admired what she had achieved but their relationship soured during the phone-hacking scandal. She was critical of James’s and Rupert’s response to the unfolding drama, which upset Rupert, who expected her to stand with the family, according to an insider. Elisabeth distanced herself further in her 2012 MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh television festival in which she criticised aspects of James’s lecture at the same venue three years earlier and defended a regular Murdoch punchbag — the BBC.

Murdoch’s increasing hostility to Elisabeth’s then husband, the London PR man Matthew Freud, complicated matters. People with knowledge of the situation say that Freud’s ongoing friendship with Tony Blair angered Rupert after allegations emerged that Blair may have had an affair with Murdoch’s ex-wife, Wendi. Freud and Elisabeth separated in 2014 and friends note a marked improvement in her relationship with her father. They spent part of last summer and Christmas together and are said to be the closest they have been in years. 
Elisabeth Murdoch was critical of James’s and Rupert’s response during the phone-hacking scandal
Still, the chances of her returning to the fold with a formal role look remote. In a 2015 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, James said Elisabeth’s decision to leave Shine after it had been acquired by Fox was a “regret”, adding: “We’re a close family but she’s doing other things now.” A source told me Rupert would “love to have her back in” but the word from people who know Elisabeth is that she has no interest in returning.

It has been 18 months since the brothers were given their new roles and the verdict from people who know them is that so far they have handled the transition well. “They are well suited to assuming the mantle and will do a very good job,” says Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, which buys advertising for its clients at News Corp titles and on Fox channels. He has known the family for years. “It’s a triumvirate, because Rupert is still very much involved. I’m told he was in the office every day over Christmas.” Triumvirates are not common at the head of large companies for good reason: someone needs to take responsibility for the big decisions. Lachlan is the co-chairman of News Corp alongside his father, but former Times and Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson, who is its chief executive, makes day-to-day decisions. “[At Fox] the way it tends to work is that the movie studio is Lachlan and Rupert, anything to do with international television — Sky, Star — is James,” one executive says. “Then a little bit of the US television stuff is up for grabs except Fox News, which is all Rupert.”

A person close to Fox puts it differently, saying major decisions are made jointly: “It is a true partnership between Lachlan and James.” Another executive scoffs at this: “The big issue is the dynamic between the three of them . . . it’s very weird,” he says. They are rarely together in one place: Lachlan works out of the Fox studio in LA, while James is at the building it shares with News Corp in midtown Manhattan. (He is also developing a property that a colleague describes as an “end-of-times house”, with its own water and solar power supply, in a remote part of Canada.) “What they haven’t worked out is a clear line of authority,” the executive continues. “It’s really management by committee or James and Lachlan trying to get Rupert to agree to something.”

The brothers will manage the Sky bid with the aim of avoiding the fate of the last offer they made for the company. Back in 2010, the family couldn’t have handled things much worse, according to Claire Enders, the media analyst. She points to the aggressive posture taken at the time, particularly by James, who in his 2009 MacTaggart lecture lambasted the BBC, calling the scale of its activities “chilling” and describing the regulation of UK broadcasting as “authoritarianism” that limited choice and freedom of expression. This disdain carried over into the first Sky bid a year later, with “hectoring” phone calls by the Murdoch camp to government ministers, Enders says. It was, she goes on, “an extraordinary farce”.

The bid this time has been made in less charged circumstances. There has been no antagonism towards Ofcom or the government and no backdrop of a criminal investigation. “The previous bid was highly politicised but this bid is very deliberately not politicised at all,” says Enders. The Murdochs, she adds, “are being patient and understanding and they are not hectoring”. 

David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun who now runs Kitchen Table Partners, a communications firm, agrees there has been a change of tone. “I don’t think they’ve ever done a better-timed transaction and they’ve done it in the right way.” He says Fox and News Corp are using more professional advisers and that corporate governance standards at the two companies have improved. 

“There used to be people who ran Sky who would get calls from Rupert and he would tell them about something Sky was going to do. And they would say: ‘Great, have you spoken to the board?’ And he would say: ‘I am speaking to the board, aren’t I?’”

The Sky offer that landed just before Christmas has an air of inevitability about it, Yelland suggests. “It could have been incredibly controversial but by the time it got dark in London that night you knew it was a done deal.”

Not everyone shares this view and there are plenty of people for whom phone-hacking memories still linger. Ed Miliband was leader of the Labour party in 2011 when what had been a minor scandal about a few rogue tabloid journalists erupted into global outrage about institutional corruption at UK tabloid newspapers. The catalyst was The Guardian’s revelation that journalists at the News of the World, Murdoch’s best-selling Sunday tabloid, had hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl. With his empire in crisis, Rupert Murdoch closed the newspaper.

The revulsion at the time was widespread and focused attention on the contentious bid for Sky. 

Miliband led the attack, tabling a motion in the House of Commons calling for the bid to be blocked. 

It was unanimously approved by MPs. The Murdochs dropped the bid and, in that same summer of 2011, James and Rupert appeared in front of a House of Commons select committee, where they apologised for the phone-hacking scandal. Rupert told the committee it was “the most humble day of my life”.

Miliband is incredulous that the Murdochs have come back for a second tilt at Sky. “Politicians from all parties agreed that phone hacking and the events that had taken place at Murdoch newspapers were shocking and shouldn’t be allowed to happen again,” he told me. “Here we are six years later and they think they can come back and try and take over Sky again as if nothing ever happened.”

He points to a 2012 report by Ofcom into whether Sky was sufficiently “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence. This was before the Murdochs had split their assets into two companies, so all of their businesses and investments — including the 39 per cent stake in Sky — were at that point housed within News Corp. The Ofcom report concluded that Sky was indeed fit and proper but censured James, who was then running News Corp’s UK arm, saying he “repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman”.

“It was clear from the Ofcom report that its basis for ruling Sky to be fit and proper to hold a licence was that the Murdochs were minority and not 100 per cent owners — and that James was not in an executive role,” Miliband says. “What we see now is James is the chief executive of Fox and that the Murdochs are trying to take full control of Sky. Ofcom has a continuing duty to assess fitness and it seems to me that it should revisit that report given the changing circumstances.”

Miliband and other opponents of the new offer, such as deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, have also voiced concerns that the sale would threaten media plurality: in other words, it would concentrate ownership and reduce the diversity of views in the marketplace. Fox insiders disagree and say the media landscape has shifted significantly since 2011. Platforms such as Facebook and Google now dominate the distribution of online news, while a new generation of digital publishers that includes BuzzFeed, Vox and Vice attracts large audiences.

Fox executives are also privately confident about their chances because the company has not owned newspapers since its demerger with News Corp in 2013. And yet the family that ultimately controls those two companies is still the Murdochs. Miliband says the deal cannot be allowed to proceed. 

“This is a big test of government and regulator. Will they act without fear or favour, even in the face of such a powerful company? The Murdochs may think that this will be waved through by a friendly government. I intend to give them a run for their money.”

There is little doubt that the Murdochs are using different tactics this time, with Rupert assuming a much lower profile. It is unclear if this is by default or design: elsewhere in his companies he has been more engaged than ever. He was in The Sun newsroom on a near daily basis in the weeks leading up to the Brexit referendum and was often spotted in the office of the editor, Tony Gallagher. 

He has always taken a close interest in the layout, design and content of the paper and, in Gallagher, has someone who shares his view that Britain will be better off out of the EU. While The Sun backed Brexit, The Times, another News Corp paper, did not: Murdoch was decidedly unhappy about the editorial line it took and made his feelings known, according to another insider.

He was even more hands-on at Fox News after Ailes was forced out last summer, stepping in as interim chief executive — a position he continues to hold — and leading the network through its coverage of the presidential election. Alongside Brexit the Trump victory must have ranked, according to Yelland, as “the two great moments for Rupert as a populist.”

Recent moves show that Rupert has his eye on the next four years and the Trump administration. 

When, after a public spat with Trump, Fox News star Megyn Kelly left the network this month for a lucrative deal at NBC, it was Murdoch who selected her replacement, Tucker Carlson, to take Kelly’s coveted 9pm slot. 

Wedged between Bill O’Reilly at 8pm and Sean Hannity at 10pm, it means that the network’s three primetime hours are now hosted by pro-Trump presenters. Compared with its rivals CNN and MSNBC it also devoted less time to last weekend’s anti-Trump women’s marches, with its pundits dismissing their significance. “The reason you get big marches in cities is that’s where the left lives,” said one presenter, Greg Gutfield.

Murdoch is in regular contact with Trump, according to two people familiar with the situation, and is also friendly with Ivanka, the new president’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, the top Trump adviser who helped steer the winning campaign. New York Magazine recently reported that Trump had asked Murdoch to suggest candidates to run the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the media industry — and which is likely to scrutinise the AT&T-Time Warner deal. 

Murdoch had, in return, requested restrictions on AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner, the magazine claimed. A Fox spokesperson declined to comment.
James told more than one friend of his dismay at the Trump presidency
Murdoch’s support for Trump distinguishes him from some of his children, including James, who told more than one friend of his dismay that his father was backing the Trump candidacy. James’s wife, Kathryn, backed Hillary Clinton during the campaign and has been a vocal critic of the new president on Twitter. In September Kathryn tweeted: “A vote for Trump is a vote for climate catastrophe”, while on the night of the president’s stunning election victory she wrote: “I can’t believe this is happening. I am so ashamed.”

James and Kathryn are committed environmentalists: she is on the board of the Environmental Defense Fund, which a Fox News report recently labelled a “leftwing group”, while James wrote in The Washington Post in 2009 that “conservation-minded conservatives” were “missing in the heated partisanship of today’s politics”.

“His passion for the environment is real,” says Gary Knell, president and chief executive of the National Geographic Society. It recently expanded an 18-year partnership with Fox that gives the Murdoch company effective ownership of the society’s publications and cable channels. National Geographic, which champions science and conservation, is an unusual stablemate for Fox News, where Greg Gutfield said on air last year that public figures such as Alec Baldwin who had spoken out about climate change had “a lot in common with Isis because they . . . want to go back to the seventh century”.
I don’t think anyone wants to acknowledge that he is about to be 86 years old
A Murdoch family friend
Knell is unconcerned. “There may be parts of the organisation I don’t agree with but my view is that a company like Fox has partnered with us to expand our scope and that works fine,” he told me. “I can tell you personally that I wouldn’t have suggested the deal to our board if a [prospective] co-owner did not respect science or the environment.” He says James attended the White House screening of Before the Flood, a documentary on climate change that National Geographic produced. 

“We did a [magazine] issue on global warming and climate change and [James] told us that he reads the magazine with his kids,” Knell says. “Lachlan has been very supportive as well.”

Their father has a rather different view of climate change. In 2015, when he was still using social media, Rupert tweeted that he was a “climate change skeptic, not a denier”. He — and Fox News — also differ with younger members of his family when it comes to Trump. A senior Murdoch executive tells me there is no pressure to fall into political line. “You don’t have to agree with Rupert. During Brexit, there were people around who were passionately for the Remain campaign.” This is true of the Fox movie studio too, where most employees are Democrats. “We are all united by our anti-establishment beliefs,” the executive says. “I’m not sure it’s a bad thing if people disagree with each other.”

Rupert may have taken a backseat role in the Sky deal but he still rules the roost. He personally selected former DreamWorks chief executive Stacey Snider as the new chairman of Fox’s movie studios. An insider says Rupert was lobbied to appoint her by David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, two of Hollywood’s most influential players and the co-founders of the DreamWorks movie studio alongside Steven Spielberg.

Rupert also has the last word on the biggest decisions. Sky was among several companies exploring an offer for Formula One last autumn when Chase Carey, Rupert’s former top lieutenant at Fox — and a Sky board member — asked to be recused from board meetings. Carey had been approached by John Malone’s Liberty Media to run Formula One if its own offer was successful and wanted him to join its bid. James, who was intent on buying Formula One, didn’t want Carey to do so. But Rupert didn’t object. That Carey left “tells you Rupert still calls the shots”, says one person familiar with what happened. Liberty won the bid: Carey, now installed as the new Formula One CEO, is drawing up grand plans to overhaul the sport.

For how much longer Rupert will be able to call the shots is unclear. “I don’t think anyone wants to acknowledge that he is about to be 86 years old,” a friend says. “The big question is going to be what happens when he steps aside.”

There are other pressing questions. The proposed AT&T-Time Warner deal, if approved, poses a clear competitive threat. Fox’s purchase of Sky will give it similar direct access to millions of consumers in Europe — assuming the deal is cleared. But Fox still lacks a direct route to viewers in the US, the world’s biggest media market, which means it will continue to be beholden to the cable and satellite companies that distribute the channels that make up the bulk of its profits.

Fox does own a stake in Hulu, a video-streaming service that has more than 12 million paying subscribers in the US and which is about to launch a virtual cable service — a collection of broadcast and cable channels bundled together and accessed over the internet. Viewers will be able to subscribe to the Hulu live service without having to shell out for cable or satellite television. Fox has high hopes but it only owns 30 per cent of Hulu, as do Disney and NBCUniversal, with Time Warner owning the rest.

Buying all of Hulu would be tricky, given that its co-owners are rivals, but if the future of media is about selling subscriptions directly to consumers then Fox doesn’t have many other options. Another possibility — following Time Warner’s example and selling itself to a big telecoms company — is unlikely to be considered. “Do you really want to be James and Lachlan and say: we’re the guys who decided to sell the family company?” one friend says.

Whatever they decide, the younger Murdochs have their work cut out if they are to emulate their father who, more than 60 years since he started out in Australian newspapers, still has a feel for the popular pulse like nobody else. “Like it or loathe it, it’s all swung Rupert’s way,” says one colleague, pointing to the role Fox and News Corp outlets played in the votes that upended the American and British political establishments last year. “The access, the influence . . . it’s all there.”

Matthew Garrahan is the FT’s global media editor
Illustration by Hellovon
Photographs: Austin Hargrave/August; Bloomberg; Getty; AFP

Trump calls for ‘major investigation’ into election integrity


Trump calls for ‘major investigation’ into election integrity
AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File 
 
The Blaze
President Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote in resounding fashion and is, as of today, the duly elected president of the United States. Most other politicians would be content with this result in a presidential election, but Trump is not most politicians. It clearly sticks in his craw that he lost the popular vote by about 2 percent to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and so he called for a “major investigation” on Wednesday morning into voter fraud that he claims cost him the popular vote.

Since the election, Trump has repeated the claim a number of times that more than 3 million people voted illegally, thus costing him the popular vote. Trump groused about voter fraud almost immediately following his election victory, but he seems to have settled on the number “3-5 million” in mid-December during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Congressional Republicans. Since then, Trump and his surrogates have repeated the claim often, which has repeatedly riled the media, who claim that there is no evidence of voter fraud on such a massive scale.

Trump repeated the claim on Monday during a meeting with lawmakers, and White House Press Secretary was grilled by reporters about the assertion during his press briefing. Spicer did not back off of the claims, but also did not state that he personally believed them, choosing instead to defend the comments by saying, “the president does believe that.”

Trump doubled down Wednesday morning on Twitter:
Voting procedures and voting integrity are typically the purview of state governments, but the Department of Justice does have some oversight authority under the Voting Rights Act, and other federal statutes. While it is unlikely that an investigation would uncover millions of illegal votes in a single presidential election, it may serve to bolster claims Republicans have long made about voter fraud and corruption, particularly in large cities.

There is, moreover, some evidence that, in some locations, systematic voter fraud may have occurred. For instance, the Michigan recount effort led by former Green Party nominee Jill Stein uncovered massive irregularities in a number of Detroit precincts.

While both Republicans and Democrats agree that some level of voter fraud exists, there is a wide partisan gap between voters of the two parties in terms of how pervasive they believe voter fraud to be. For instance, a Gallup poll taken in August revealed that a slight majority (52 percent) of Republicans believe that voter fraud is a “major problem,” as compared to only 26 percent of Democrats. A Washington Post poll taken in October showed that 60 percent of Republicans believe that illegal immigrants and other ineligible people vote in “meaningful amounts,” compared to less than 25 percent of Democrats and less than 40 percent of independents. Support for voter ID laws to combat voter fraud is also strongly determined by party affiliation.

However, until now, valid, systematic studies about the prevalence of voter fraud have been virtually non-existent. If the Department of Justice follows through on Trump’s desire, that may be about to change.



Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: No Plans to Run For President

Image: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: No Plans to Run For President

(AP)
By Cathy Burke
Billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg isn't planning to run for president, preferring to focus on business and philanthropy projects, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.

"No," he emailed the news outlet about a planned White House bid. "I’m focused on building our community at Facebook and working on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative," a philanthropy effort he runs with his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The tech titan first fueled speculation when he proposed a company stock reclassification that would let him serve in government without losing his majority voting rights. 

Most recently, Vanity Fair reported a number of people in Silicon Valley think Zuckerberg is gearing up for a 2020 run.
But Zuckerberg is preparing for a political battle only as a private citizen, an unnamed source told BuzzFeed News.

"There is absolutely a possibility that Mark may choose to play a stronger role in the political system and political debates," the source told BuzzFeed.


Dow Industrials Climb Past 20000

WSJ/
The Dow Jones Industrial Average vaulted over the 20000 milestone for the first time Wednesday morning, gains traders attributed mostly to enthusiasm for President Trump’s plans to boost infrastructure projects.



President-elect Donald Trump salutes the statue of Abraham Lincoln as he and his wife Melania take part in a Make America Great Again welcome concert in Washington. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
 
 
By Ayesha Rascoe and Julia Edwards Ainsley | WASHINGTON
Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama's policies.
Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

"He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you're going to see that in the days and weeks to come," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week.

Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. He has harshly criticized the agency and its outgoing chief, first questioning the CIA's conclusion that Russia was involved in cyber hacking during the U.S. election campaign, before later accepting the verdict. Trump also likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany.

Trump's advisers vetted more than 200 potential executive orders for him to consider signing on healthcare, climate policy, immigration, energy and numerous other issues, but it was not clear how many orders he would initially approve, according to a member of the Trump transition team who was not authorized to talk to the press.

Signing off on orders puts Trump, who has presided over a sprawling business empire but has never before held public office, in a familiar place similar to the CEO role that made him famous, and will give him some early victories before he has to turn to the lumbering process of getting Congress to pass bills.

The strategy has been used by other presidents, including Obama, in their first few weeks in office.

"He wants to show he will take action and not be stifled by Washington gridlock," said Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer.

Trump is expected to impose a federal hiring freeze and take steps to delay a Labor Department rule due to take effect in April that would require brokers who give retirement advice to put their clients' best interests first.

He also will give official notice he plans to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, Spicer said. "I think you will see those happen very shortly," Spicer said.

Obama, ending eight years as president, made frequent use of his executive powers during his second term in office, when the Republican-controlled Congress stymied his efforts to overhaul immigration and environmental laws. Many of those actions are now ripe targets for Trump to reverse.

BORDER WALL
Trump is expected to sign an executive order in his first few days to direct the building of a wall on the southern border with Mexico, and actions to limit the entry of asylum seekers from Latin America, among several immigration-related steps his advisers have recommended.

That includes rescinding Obama's order that allowed more than 700,000 people brought into the United States illegally as children to stay in the country on a two-year authorization to work and attend college, according to several people close to the presidential transition team.

It is unlikely Trump's order will result in an immediate roundup of these immigrants, sources told Reuters. Rather, he is expected to let the authorizations expire.

The issue could set up a confrontation with Obama, who told reporters on Wednesday he would weigh in if he felt the new administration was unfairly targeting those immigrants.

Advisers to Trump expect him to put restrictions on people entering the United States from certain countries until a system for "extreme vetting" for Islamist extremists can be set up.

During his presidential campaign, Trump proposed banning non-American Muslims from entering the United States, but his executive order regarding immigration is expected to be based on nationality rather than religion.

Another proposed executive order would require all Cabinet departments to disclose and pause current work being done in connection with Obama's initiatives to curb carbon emissions to combat climate change.

Trump also is expected to extend prohibitions on future lobbying imposed on members of his transition team.

'THE HIGHEST IQ'
Washington was turned into a virtual fortress ahead of the inauguration, with police ready to step in to separate protesters from Trump supporters at any sign of unrest.
 
As Obama packed up to leave the White House, Trump and his family laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and attended a concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Trump spoke earlier to lawmakers and Cabinet nominees at a luncheon in a ballroom at his hotel, down the street from the White House, announcing during brief remarks that he would pick Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets of the National Football League, as U.S. ambassador to Britain.

"We have a lot of smart people. I tell you what, one thing we've learned, we have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled," Trump said.

Trump has selected all 21 members of his Cabinet, along with six other key positions requiring Senate confirmation. The Senate is expected on Friday to vote to confirm retired General James Mattis, Trump's pick to lead the Pentagon, and retired General John Kelly, his homeland security choice.

Senate Republicans had hoped to confirm as many as seven Cabinet members on Friday, but Democrats balked at the pace. Trump spokesman Spicer accused Senate Democrats of "stalling tactics."

Also in place for Monday will be 536 "beachhead team members" at government agencies, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said, a small portion of the thousands of positions Obama's appointees will vacate.

Trump has asked 50 Obama staffers in critical posts to stay on until replacements can be found, including Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and Brett McGurk, envoy to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

The list includes Adam Szubin, who has long served in an "acting" capacity in the Treasury Department's top anti-terrorism job because his nomination has been held up by congressional Republicans since Obama named him to the job in April 2015.

The Supreme Court said U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will administer the oath of office on Friday, met with Trump on Thursday to discuss inauguration arrangements.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, David Alexander, Doina Chiacu, Ayesha Rascoe, Ginger Gibson, Mike Stone, Emily Stephenson, David Brunnstrom and Lawrence Hurley; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)