News Corp did a little tax engineering just days before the election campaign started.
Neil Chenoweth | Senior writer
May 10, 2019
It’s always inspiring to see someone backing themselves, and Rupert Murdoch is putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to News Corp Australia.
On March 29 News Corp US ponied up $178 million to invest as new shares in News Australia Holdings. Apparently the $4.3 billion of existing capital was completely inadequate.
Back in May 2016 Rupert wasn’t so bullish, and NAH paid out $1.9 billion of redeemable preference shares, only to take up $1.2 billion of ordinary shares exactly 12 months later.
Rupert Murdoch’s favourite number in the tax column is zero. Bloomberg
It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. News has a long history of intragroup loans in different currencies, which it has redeemed at times when the exchange rates create tax losses here – in 2013 this produced an $882 million tax refund after a little tussle with the Tax Office.
Paying out the redeemable preference shares in 2016 and then raising new capital with share issues will be part of wider transactions. The reasons are unfathomable, but as Monaco resident Richard Wiesener would put it, it looks like a three-letter word that begins with T and ends with X. And it doesn’t stand for tuxedo.
Of course, it’s a bit awkward doing a little tax engineering like this, just days before the start of an election when the Labor Party has been accusing News of tax avoidance. But it does all make the issue rather pertinent.
So how much tax does News Corp Australia pay?
Looking at cashflow, in 2018 NAH made $162 million in cash payments for tax. But that includes REA Group, its 61.6 per cent subsidiary, which paid three-quarters, or $124 million, of that.
It also includes News Corp’s 65 per cent owned NXE Australia, which owns Foxtel and Fox Sports Australia and paid $10.4 million cash tax.
And then NAH’s 2018 tax was boosted by that $80 million tax settlement with the ATO in August 2017. That included $20 million in current tax paid for previous years.
On top of all that there’s the withholding tax NAH pays on interest it pays to a News Corp associate offshore, which News likes to lump in with income tax.
Once we weed through all that we’re left with core operations for 2018. Removing all those settlements and subidiary businesses, you end up with Rupert’s favourite number. That is zero, of course.