News Corp. executive sidesteps rumors about plans to acquire more newspapers

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News Corp. held its quarterly earnings call this afternoon. ()
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News Corp. president and chief operating officer Chase Carey sidestepped questions about whether his company is in acquisition mode this afternoon.

"Obviously we should look at some things," said Carey, speaking on a conference call with Wall Street analysts. "But I'm not going to get into commenting transaction by transaction, rumor by rumor."

Carey was referring to recent reports that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has his eye on The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, both of which are owned by The Tribune Company. News Corp. has denied that it is in talks to acquire either paper.

"I don't think we're going to be commenting on the daily rumors," said Carey. "A lot of them are not true. There are places where we think we can add something, but our focus is really on growing our [existing] businesses."

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News Corp. is preparing to implement the proposed split of its lucrative entertainment assets from its publishing segment, which is a perennial drag on quarterly earnings. In the company's first-quarter results for fiscal year 2013, operating income for the publishing segment slid $53 million from the same period a year earlier "due to lower advertising revenues across all divisions, led by declines at the Australian and U.S. publishing businesses," according to an earnings report released Tuesday afternoon.

The company noted that the declines "were partially offset by increased contributions at the U.K. newspapers, which benefitted from the launch of the Sunday edition of The Sun in February 2012."

The Sunday Sun edition replaced News of the World, which was shut down in July of 2011 as a result of the phone-hacking scandal that is still impacting the company—the most recent quarterly charge "related to the costs of the ongoing investigations initiated upon the closure of The News of the World" was $67 million. News Corp. also logged $5 million in costs this past quarter related to the planned company split, which is expected to take place next year.

Overall, first-quarter net income rose to $2.23 billion from $738 million a year earlier. As usual, the growth was driven primarily by the company's entertainment and cable television operations, which include Twentieth Century Fox and Fox News Channel.

Fox News Channel's sister station, Fox Business Network, which competes primarily with the higher-rated CNBC, got a boost of confidence from Carey during the earnings call.

"Fox Business has made some nice progress," he said. "We still have some distribution issues to deal with, but it's made nice strides in ratings. It's on a good track."