Publishing company News Corp. said its finances are in good shape and that it would begin paying investors a semiannual cash dividend.
The move, announced Thursday, was welcome news. Newspaper revenues industrywide have been in steep decline, but the publishing company controlled by Rupert Murdoch was designed to weather the storm that has been pummeling competing companies with print publications.
Two years ago when Murdoch divided his media empire into two publicly traded companies — News Corp. and 21st Century Fox — he insisted that his publishing company be positioned for success with a strong balance sheet.
News Corp. had no debt and $2 billion in cash on hand at the end of the March quarter, according to a Wells Fargo Securities analyst.
Murdoch's company includes the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Times of London, a bunch of Australian newspapers, some Australian TV outlets and book publishing house HarperCollins.
Board members approved several measures this week. The company said it expects to initiate a semiannual cash dividend of about 10 cents a share in the first quarter of its next fiscal year, which begins June 29. Payment will be made to shareholders during the October-December quarter.
It marks the first time News Corp. has paid a dividend since the company became a stand-alone entity in June 2013.
“This decision by the board is a sign of confidence in the state of our business and faith in our prospects for the future,” News Corp. Chief Executive Robert Thomson said in a statement.
The company also plans to initiate a stock buy-back program of about $500 million. News Corp. is "firmly on track for long-term growth and value creation,” Thomson said, noting the strategic worth of some of its investments, including website realtor.com, and its purchase of Harlequin, the muscular hunk of the romance-novel publishing world.
News Corp. shares jumped about 30 cents to just over $14.50 a share in early-morning trading Thursday.
The board also amended a "poison-pill" measure, which had been scheduled to expire Thursday. The measure, which protects current shareholders, was extended to June 18, 2018.
The Murdoch family controls 39% of the voting shares of News Corp.