Feature Article: When the walls falls.

The relentless, unstoppable force that spooked Murdoch and Lowy


  • By John McDuling

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It is hard to think of a more fitting conclusion to 2017 for corporate Australia than the two seismic deals involving Rupert Murdoch and Frank Lowy that sent shockwaves around the world [in Dec 2017].

Fox-Disney
Fox Entertainment sold to Disney

 

Murdoch has made little secret of the fact he was concerned that his Fox entertainment businesses didn’t have the necessary scale to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, so he sold them to Disney.As you almost certainly know by now, the two iconic, octogenarian billionaires decided to sell assets they had spent decades building up, at least in part due to concerns about threats posed to their businesses by internet led rivals.

Westfield
Westfield is being sold to Unibail-Ramenco

Even Murdoch is buying into it.“I read this week about my Australian friends at Westfield. They can see what Amazon is doing to bricks and mortar retail,” he told the Financial Times over the weekend.

As one of the next generation of globally significant Australian executives, Mike-Cannon Brookes, pointed out last week, every industry is being threatened by some form of digital insurrection at the moment.

The advent of Amazon, which terrified retail executives and investors in the sector; Elon Musk and Cannon-Brookes’ intervention into the national energy debate in South Australia, and the rise of crypto-currencies upending the established order in finance were just a few of the big stories that played into this theme.

wp-image-373527896.
Elon Musk is ready to deliver in South Australia’s energy crisis.

There is a belief the Murdoch and Lowy mega-deals could merely represent a taste of things to come, with the theme of technology motivated mergers and acquisitions set to continue next year.

Senior investment bankers this column has spoken to say rapid technological change remains a top concern among directors on the boards of our biggest companies.

This is forcing them to invest more in innovation and technology. Selling assets (including infrastructure and property, but also non-core businesses) that aren’t central to their business is one way to fund that.

One such example could be Telstra’s decision to take steps to reduce its stake in pay TV company Foxtel.

A recent survey of companies and private equity firms by consulting giant Deloitte found that companies in the US expect to do more acquisitions next year.

They are sitting on more cash than they were a year ago – potential changes to America’s tax regime could provide them with even more firepower – and they expect to use that cash to buy other companies.

The biggest motivating factors for acquisitions, according to the Deloitte survey, were a desire to acquire technology, and the need to build out a digital strategy.

The Deloitte survey dovetails with a forecast by Goldman Sachs, which expects M&A spending in the world’s largest economy to rise 6 per cent to $US355 billion next year.

Almost every company these days is trying to position itself as a tech firm. This includes our big banks, Telstra, and in a global context, century old industrial giant General Electric.

The distinction between business and technology is becoming increasingly blurred, the firms with the best tech over the long run will win.

For people exposed to the technology industry, it can be nauseating to hear old school executives rattle off terms like digital disruption, the blockchain and artificial intelligence.

But in fairness to them, in an era of rapid technological change, fighting progress will be futile, so they have little choice but to embrace it.

Unless, like Lowy and Murdoch, you can find a way out.

 

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald (online) on 18 December, 2017

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