The Murdoch family—owners of Fox News, Sky News Australia, and The New York Post—has tapped into a $100 million loan from the Chinese government’s state-owned Bank of China’s New York branch. The loan is part of a gigantic $1.25 billion loan package disclosed last Thursday to Murdoch’s News Corp. Though not reported by mainstream news in the U.S., the loan comes at the same time as Murdoch’s global media empire virulently denounces the Chinese Communist Party. 

According to the 180-page filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the ASX in Australia, the Bank of China’s $100 million in loans is the second-largest after Bank of America, which is contributing $117 million. Other lenders include J.P. Morgan Chase, Citibank, Morgan Stanley Bank, MUFG Bank, Deutsche Bank New York Branch, Goldman Sachs Bank USA, HSBC Bank USA, Australia, and New Zealand Banking Group Limited, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac Banking Corp., and National Australia Bank Limited. 

With an estimated $3.7 trillion in assets, the Bank of China is the largest and oldest bank on the Chinese mainland. The news of the funding comes as China‘s largest city, Shanghai, extended its lockdown on Monday to test its 25 million residents for COVID-19, as reported by Murdoch-owned the Wall Street Journal.

Screenshot / SEC Filing

It is not clear why the mega-company needs the money. According to the filing, it will be used for unstated “general corporate purposes,” leading the Australian publication Crikey to ponder whether “a big takeover [is] in the offing?” 

A year ago, Crickey reported on Murdoch’s $460 million purchase of book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—a deal which added 7,000 titles to the Harper Collins back catalog, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. The purchase provoked a unique tweet from Rupert’s “latter-day chief critic,” Kevin Rudd.

Days before purchasing Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, News Corp announced the $362 million purchase of Investors Business Daily, which oversees investors.com, with nearly 100,000 digital subscribers. According to Crikey, the combined $822 million between the two acquisitions in 2021 put News Corp’s cash balance in a net debt position for the first time since it de-merged 21st Century Fox in 2013, with its Dec. 31 News Corp balance sheet revealing that net cash was down to $306 million. 

Explaining the situation further, Crickey reports that News Corp first went into a net debt position 12 months ago when it committed $1.07 billion to three separate bolt-on acquisitions in one week. Still, last August, it then announced a much more substantial $1.15 billion cash acquisition of OPIS, the Oil Price Information Service, that S&P was forced to sell by U.S. anti-trust regulators. The purchase was partly funded by a $500 million notes issue in February 2022—an issue of debt securities to institutional investors rather than borrowing directly from banks.

News Corp’s Dec. 31 accounts indicate it already had gross borrowings totaling $2.27 billion, down slightly from $2.313 billion on Jun. 30. However, according to Crickey, this was primarily counterbalanced by $2.187 billion of cash holdings. Among other entities, the company also owns Dow Jones, Realtor.com, The Sun, and REA Group. The company’s market capitalization is $13.2 billion; thus, “it has the capacity to borrow a few billion.”

News Corp Fox Corporation’s balance sheet is “in slightly worse shape with $8 billion in gross debt.” Yet this is somewhat offset by $4.45 billion in cash, leaving net debt at $3.75 billion against a market capitalization of $22 billion. And without a doubt, the Murdochs have a noticeable majority of their estimated $23 billion family fortune tied up in Disney shares despite having no power in the $251 billion controversial business. Indeed, Rupert Murdoch’s $71 billion deal with Disney in 2019 turned all six of his children into billionaires in their own right.

A hint to one plausible explanation for Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch’s acceptance of the loan was reported on Mar. 24, 2022, by Financial Times (FT). Figures released last month related to the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal reveal how the decade-old drama—involving members of the Royal family and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler—continues to cast a shadow over Murdoch’s UK newspaper operations, including The Sun and The Sun on Sunday. 

FT reports that News Corp revealed last month that it “set aside roughly $19 million for damages and claimants’ expenses and incurred $44 million in its own legal fees. These bills are in addition to nearly $104 million in the same type of expenses in 2021 and pushed the company to an annual pre-tax loss of $67 million. FT reports that, under an arrangement reached when Fox was split from News Corp, costs to Murdoch related to the phone-hacking scandal are indemnified by Fox Corporation.

Curiously, on Feb. 4, 2022, the WSJ reported on a “cyberattack on News Corp,” which they declared was believed to be linked to China. Whatever the justification behind accepting a loan involving the CCP, Crickey points out:

“For Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, [accepting the money] was no problem whatsoever —meaning that, as of yesterday, parts of the Murdoch media empire are ‘partially brought to you by the autocratic dictators in Beijing.’ But don’t expect this to be disclosed by News Corp’s anti-China shock jocks any time soon.”