The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that News Corp. is exploring the sale of its stock market indexing business, which includes the iconic Dow Jones industrial average, the de facto pulse of U.S. capitalism. The Journal is owned by News Corp., so even though Dow Jones & Co. declined to comment on the story, it's hard to doubt its veracity.
“There's a lot of value in them,” Roland DeSilva, managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips, said of the stock market indexes. “They're great brands. It would be an interesting acquisition.
I think [News Corp. Chairman-CEO Rupert] Murdoch selling them off also indicates that he wants to lower his debt structure.”
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, said, “I'm not terribly surprised that they would look at selling something that has quite a lot of value that they can use to bolster the newspaper through these difficult times.”
The Journal story estimated that a sale of Dow Jones' stock market indexing business could generate $700 million for News Corp. The story said Goldman Sachs is handling the process and mentioned MSCI Inc. as a potential buyer.
The story also speculated that the index would retain the Dow Jones name. “The broad name recognition of the index will likely be a reason to keep the name intact under a new owner. A person familiar with the matter said that any deal would likely require that the Dow Jones name remain,” the story said.
Exploring this sale is a sign that News Corp. plans to focus on Dow Jones' core assets, such as the Journal, and that it remains open to divesting noncore assets, such as the Ottaway newspapers and Far Eastern Economic Review, several sources said.
DeSilva said the debt associated with the Dow Jones acquisition has forced News Corp. to contemplate these sales to help fund the Journal's continuing investment in its vibrant digital business, led by wsj.com.
“They're caught in this conundrum of this huge debt structure and they have to service this debt and, concurrently, they have to make substantial investments in this movement to digital media,” he said.
The Journal has been among the most successful newspapers in making the transition to digital. Despite the Journal's success in selling digital subscriptions, it's no secret that the newspaper as a whole is struggling mightily. Total print advertising revenue fell 17.7% in 2008 compared with the previous year, according to the most recent annual data available from the Newspaper Association of America.
Newspaper companies overall are struggling, particularly those that have assumed debt in their expansion by acquisition. The nasty combination of decreasing revenue and onerous debt has led many newspapers to sell or contemplate selling peripheral products.
A few recent examples:
? Tribune Co., which publishes the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, last month announced the $845 million sale of its Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. Tribune Co. was laden with substantial debt following the 2007 buyout of the company by real estate mogul Sam Zell.
? The New York Times Co. is considering a sale of the Boston Globe, which has an ownership stake in the Boston Red Sox.
? Times Publishing Co., which publishes the St. Petersburg Times, completed its sale of Congressional Quarterly in August.
According to a report released in August by Outsell, newspaper publishers in general are failing to move as fast as other media categories in the conversion from print revenue to digital revenue.
“Simply put, the news industry has so far failed to make the digital transition,” Outsell analyst Ken Doctor wrote in the report, titled “Top 15 U.S. New Companies Print-to-Digital Market Size and Share.”
“While the wheels are coming off the industry—with six bankruptcies and massive product and job cutbacks—it remains dependent on print revenues. The news segment still stands out as the biggest laggard in the information industry overall,” Doctor wrote. M