Billionaires: James Murdoch leads $2bn funding in Mukesh Ambani's media venture

In our fortnightly round-up, Zara founder Amancio Ortega buys a Glasgow commercial building for $254m and Philippines property tycoon Manuel Villar plans to shift away from low-cost homes

FILE: James Murdoch, co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox Inc., gestures during a panel session at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes, France, on Thursday, June 25, 2015. For decades, investors, analysts, busybodies, columnists and gossips have loved to chew over the ultimate media-dynasty question: When Rupert Murdoch was at long last forced to step down -- whether for age, coup or scandal -- which of his children would assume the throne of his vast empire? James or Lachlan or Elisabeth? Now we know the answer. Our editors select the best archive images of the Murdoch family. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg
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James Murdoch

A company led by billionaire James Murdoch and a former head of Walt Disney India will invest 135 billion rupees ($1.8bn) in a venture backed by Mukesh Ambani, as the fight for domination of the South Asian media market intensifies.

Bodhi Tree Systems will lead a group of investors to pour the cash into Viacom18 — a joint venture between Mr Ambani and Viacom, the companies said. A unit of Mr Ambani’s Reliance Industries will invest another 16.5bn rupees.

The partnership comes as Reliance is preparing to bid for broadcast rights of the Indian Premier League, the prized asset in cricket-crazy India. It will have to battle Amazon, The Walt Disney Company, Sony Group and home-grown Zee Entertainment for the win.

Reliance will transfer its over-the-top, or OTT, platform JioCinema to Viacom18 as part of the deal.

Bodhi Tree is a newly formed platform between Mr Murdoch, who has a net worth of about $2bn and is the son of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, and Uday Shankar, the former Asia president for Walt Disney.

Amancio Ortega

Amancio Ortega, the billionaire behind the Zara fashion brand, has bought a commercial building in Glasgow for £200 million ($254m).

The development, which hosts BNP Paribas and Aecom’s offices in the Scottish city, was purchased from HFD Group, React News and Spanish website El Confidencial reported. A representative for Mr Ortega’s family office confirmed the transaction to Bloomberg.

Mr Ortega, Spain’s richest man, has invested billions of euros in landmark properties around the world, including Manhattan’s Haughwout Building and Miami’s tallest office tower.

His investment company, Pontegadea Inversiones, announced last year it owned the largest real estate portfolio among Europe’s super-rich, valued at €15.2bn ($15.9bn).

The bulk of the company's investments is focused on premium commercial real estate, with assets in cities including Madrid, Seattle and London. In January, he bought Toronto’s Royal Bank Plaza skyscraper for about C$1.2bn ($940mn).

The billionaire also owns stakes in Telefonica's subsea cable unit Telxius and natural gas pipeline company Enagas. He started diversifying into energy assets in 2019.

Manuel Villar

Former politician and billionaire Manuel Villar plans to begin developing and pre-selling properties in 44 so-called townships within a year, in a shift away from low-cost homes that helped him become the richest person in the Philippines.

The mixed-used projects, located in 23 cities and with a combined area of 1,438 hectares, could boost Vista Land & Lifescapes' worth, which should be three times its current value, said Mr Villar, the company’s founder and chairman.

Developing a hectare in the townships could cost 1.36bn pesos ($26m), he said on Thursday.

“It’s now time to develop these properties,” said Mr Villar, whose net worth is $8bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The townships will host residential towers, offices and commercial space in undeveloped plots in Vista Land’s properties that were accumulated over more than three decades.

The move forms part of efforts towards building more residential towers and away from housing that cost 550,000 pesos per unit, Mr Villar said. Vista Land won’t sell homes priced at less than 2.5m pesos a unit beginning next year, he said.

The shift to building residential towers — which accounts for less than 5 per cent of total revenue — should have started as early as five years ago, owing to rising incomes and values of the properties where the assets are, he added.

Vista Land, however, will continue selling houses and lots, particularly in areas where the cost of land remains low, said Mr Villar, who began developing mass housing projects in the 1970s as an offshoot of a gravel and sand business.

Apart from Vista Land’s real estate investment trust (Reit), Mr Villar said he plans to hold maiden share sales for his companies operating small power plants, coffee shops and restaurants.

The company, which operates plants on Siquijor and Camotes islands with a combined capacity of 21.7 megawatts, will follow the maiden share sale of Vista Land’s Reit.

The coffee shop venture should have 200 stores by the time it holds an initial public offering later this year or in early 2023, with the share sale size at more than 1bn pesos.

Mr Villar’s media venture will start broadcasting this year and will consider video streaming and theme park businesses in the future, while his AllDay retail venture is on track to hit a target of 100 stores by 2026, adding seven to eight outlets this year.

Carl Icahn

Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn said Wall Street’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts may be the “biggest hypocrisy of our time”, with companies cashing in on the investing strategy without concern for actual societal impacts.

The world’s largest money managers, their bankers and lawyers “seem to be engaged in a cover-up to downplay their ESG-related economic incentives and promote their purported social impact”, Mr Icahn said in a letter to McDonald’s shareholders on Thursday. “Clearly, the ESG status quo on Wall Street needs to change.”

Mr Icahn criticised asset managers for “subjectively selecting” which ESG issues are important. If ESG is to be more than marketing and a way to raise money, investors must “back up their words with actions”, he said.

ESG has ballooned into an industry embraced by the investing and financial world, with the label now slapped on everything from loans to exchange-traded funds as fund managers and bankers generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees.

As climate change and other natural resource challenges continue to threaten our world, animal welfare is an increasingly pivotal societal issue
Carl Icahn, activist investor

The global market adds up to about $40 trillion of assets, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence.

That growth has prompted some current and former sustainability executives and academics to criticise ESG for having a limited impact in tackling systemic societal issues.

Even the man who led a group that coined the acronym has said the finance industry has “sprinkled ESG fairy dust” on products and that there will be an industry shakeout in the next five years.

While ESG covers a range of issues, it’s both “unacceptable and irresponsible” that large asset managers have put little emphasis on animal welfare in their stewardship and proxy-voting guidelines, Mr Icahn said.

He has proposed adding new directors to the boards of McDonald’s and Kroger, saying the companies are mistreating animals in their supply chains.

He told McDonald’s shareholders in his letter that backing his two directors — including one that runs a sustainable investment company — would send a message to management teams across the US and the world.

“As climate change and other natural resource challenges continue to threaten our world, animal welfare is an increasingly pivotal societal issue,” Mr Icahn said.


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Updated: May 02, 2022, 5:00 AM