In a recent article about Rupert Murdoch and his bid to acquire Dow Jones, The Economist newspaper reported as an aside that while at the Davos World Economic Forum Murdoch was trying to interest as many PE groups as he could in a combined News Corp/PE bid for Pearson. Dow Jones has always been his preferred business publication and he sees the Dow Jones property as key to the development of his global business channel; however, if the Dow Jones shareholders appear intractable then he is likely to launch an attack on Pearson in order to get his hands on The Financial Times and The Economist Group.
For their part, the Pearson board and top executives have said that they are unwilling to sell or to split up the company. In spite of this consistent message, with the sale of the Thomson Learning business for almost $1.5billion more than Thomson and analysts expected one must wonder when the views of the board begin to diverge from the interests of the shareholders if valuations like this are on offer via PE money.
According to a number of sources, the hold out Bancroft family is set to meet today to discuss the News Corp offer. Murdoch has proven to be fairly patient in his effort to acquire Dow Jones but he has promised a financial network to compete with CNBC and needs content and branding to support that effort. The synergy that will exist between the US based Dow Jones and News Corp and the brand recognition and reach of The Wall Street Journal will trump the larger international presence and brand of The Financial Times. I suspect Murdoch will continue with his full court press on the Bancrofts for the short term - he is unlikely to up his offer - and he is probably willing to gamble on an auction should the Bancroft shareholders decide to seek other offers. While there is a lot of PE money going around, the Murdoch price is a fair one given the trading level prior to the bid. Some have also suggested that the share price will tumble below this original level if Murdoch is rebuffed.
With respect to Pearson there exists a possibility that they could be 'blackmailed' into parting with The Financial Times if someone started to buy up shares of the company; however, this seems unlikely since the moment any group launches any type of offer there will be several additional offers presented almost immediately. I suppose Pearson could defend itself by making a big acquisition and loading up on debt but who would they buy....Dow Jones?