Murdoch may be feeling homesick

Rupert Murdoch could be forgiven for feeling a little homesick this week.

Friday marks News Corporation’s first annual general meeting in New York, breaking the company’s long tradition of holding the meetings in Australia.

Of course, Murdoch switched the company’s headquarters from Australia to New York last year, a move that was hoped to have a number of benefits – including a boost to News Corp shares.

Instead, it has caused severe headaches. For starters, the switch gave John Malone an opening to raise his stake in News Corp to 18 per cent. The stock has fallen, too, and some News Corp shareholders are preparing for a fight.

Twelve funds are suing Murdoch and other directors over their decision not to extend the poison pill – which was meant to keep Malone from accumulating still more stock – to a vote. To press their point further, they are urging other shareholders to withhold votes for the re-election of Chase Carey and Peter Chernin – two of Murdoch’s most trusted lieutenants – in protest of the poison pill policy.

After the meeting, Murdoch will hold a press conference, at which they will no doubt be bombarded with questions.

At which point Murdoch may begin longing for the family atmosphere of the old meetings in his home town of Adelaide, Australia, where the company’s meetings were held for almost half a century.

The company’s AGM was always a big date on Adelaide’s rather sparsely annotated business calendar, attracting a solid core of devoted News Corp shareholders – mostly local farmers who dressed up for the occasion and enjoyed a nice spread of tea and scones afterwards. It even gave Murdoch a chance to visit with his spry mother, who lived nearby. There is little chance Murdoch will be embraced as warmly in New York tomorrow.

Fresh start

Vikram Pandit, who was Morgan Stanley’s head of institutional securities before quitting this year during the campaign to oust chief executive Phil Purcell, has resurfaced – sort of.

He and two other Morgan execs who quit at the same time, John Havens and Guru Ramakrishnan, have formed a group called Old Lane Management, a fund of funds and private equity firm that will be focused on India, according to Alternative Investment News, an industry newsletter.

The group, based in the trio’s Park Avenue offices and also in Mumbai, may also form an investment banking arm, says AIN.

The news might put paid to efforts by John Mack, the new chief at Morgan, to lure Pandit back. The three are part of a growing trend for successful Indian executives and entrepreneurs to return to their old country or to start trans-Pacific ventures.

After what they endured at Morgan Stanley, Observer feels the three are well prepared for whatever Mumbai might serve up.

Final tour

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, is to have one last hurrah before leaving office next month.

The normally loquacious Fischer has been pretty quiet since he announced after last month’s election that he would be withdrawing from national politics. Apart from an interview when the Green declared himself the only remaining “rock ’n’ roller” in German politics, he has hardly been seen or heard.

Now Observer hears that Fischer is off to Washington and New York at the end of the month for a couple of farewell visits. He is due to stop in on Condoleezza Rice and Kofi Annan, among others.

The word in Berlin is that the visits show that Fischer retains much respect on the other side of the Atlantic.

Oddly, Observer has not heard of plans by Gerhard Schröder, the outgoing chancellor, to drop in on President George W. Bush before he departs.

Yet the two, who fell out over the Iraq war, did chat on the phone last week, with Bush – according to the chancellery – wishing him well and saying that he would like to “stay in touch” after Schröder steps down. Somehow, Observer doubts he will be flying to Crawford any time soon.

Changing roles

When it comes to Refco, Arthur Levitt has been a true quick-change artist.

First, the former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman was a critic. He made comments last week slamming the investment banks that took the company public for not spotting problems sooner. A day after making those comments, Levitt was hired to act as an adviser to Refco.

But this week, Levitt has stepped down from that role, six days after taking it. To be fair, it makes sense. Levitt was hired to help restore public confidence in the company. Now that Refco has filed for bankruptcy protection, public confidence isn’t really all that necessary.

Don’t vote for me

Cristina Fernández, Argentina’s first lady and a candidate in this weekend’s legislative elections, is busy putting the final touches on her campaign to become senator for the province of Buenos Aires.

But don’t expect to see the customary pictures of her placing her ballot in the box come Sunday morning. In fact, don’t expect to see her vote at all. Observer has discovered that Fernández forgot to register her name with the Buenos Aires election authorities in time.

In theory, she could still vote in Santa Cruz, the province she represents in the Senate. But it is a three-and-a-half hour flight from Buenos Aires.

In practice, that will mean one vote less for her camp. But without the duty of voting Sunday morning, at least she can give herself a rest after her campaign.

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