Ethics and market performance don't correlate much: News Chief Rupert Murdoch on his way to give evidence at the Leveson ...

Ethics and market performance don’t correlate much: News Chief Rupert Murdoch on his way to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry. Photo: AFP

DEFIANT as a lone zombie-hunting warrior stalking an apocalyptic landscape, Rupert Murdoch this week told Britain’s Leveson inquiry into media ethics that he was the victim of a cover-up.

The hacking and other systematic criminal behaviour were the fault of his subordinates. No, he didn’t influence politicians to further his business agendas either.

And although he vaguely remembered British Prime Minister David Cameron popping in to see him on his yacht in the Mediterranean, or perhaps that was his wife’s yacht, he couldn’t recall specifics of the meeting, if there was a meeting at all.

The News Corp share price went up. It’s up 8 per cent this year and 30 per cent since Rupert and his son James first fronted Britain’s Parliament last July. Travelling on 14 times its 2012 earnings, News’ earnings are forecast to grow at 15-20 per cent.

The Leveson show is further proof that ethics and market performance don’t correlate much. Ethics aside, News Corp is a highly valuable collection of assets. Murdoch has spun a $50 billion global media business from a single newspaper in Adelaide. He fights on, albeit bloodied. And the market has now all but factored in the succession of Chase Carey as chief executive. Even if there is a final battle for control – dynasty versus institutions – it won’t destroy value for long. Once unthinkable, the impending changing of the guard is more likely now to enhance News’ value.

IN CASE you haven’t been following the Centro court case – that’s the one where directors and auditors lost track of that pesky $1.1 billion before Centro shares got hammered 70 per cent – it also carries a theme of culpable subordinates.

Audit firm PwC is blaming its audit partner Stephen Cougle for the stuff-up and Cougle in turn says his juniors are at fault.

Despite being excoriated by the judge for its arguments, the PwC legal team has stuck valiantly to its guns.

It is the audit partner that signs the audit opinion, not the audit firm, they say. The end product of the audit service may be the audit opinion but PwC the firm is apparently not really there when an audit opinion sallies forth from one of its offices.

The PwC logo on the pages of the audit opinion is a chartered accountant apparition. Lest the gullible notice the words ”PricewaterhouseCoopers” typed on the audit opinion page with a handwritten signature ”PricewaterhouseCoopers” above it, that is just to let you know that your real auditor – the individual partner that signed the audit report – can be found in an office block that has the word ”PricewaterhouseCoopers” on the building signage.

Yes, PwC does appear responsible for the audit. But to understand the reality of the audit world one has to accept that – while PwC the firm accepts the audit engagement and then assigns an audit partner and staff to do the audit including carrying out audit planning and audit procedures, and PwC the firm provides the resources to do the audit tasks including technical specialists with expertise on what constitutes a current liability – at the very climax of the audit, PWC the firm exits stage left.

The audit firm effectively dies as the flower of the audit opinion is about to be in bloom and the audit partner emerges like the butterfly from the chrysalis.

When the audit opinion is being signed off by the audit partner, the audit has become a solitary pursuit. But PwC the firm does not dematerialise for long. Transcendent, it returns to collect the cheque for the audit work, including the audit opinion, and then deposits it in a PwC firm bank account.

And from there, PwC funds emerge to pay barristers $10,000 an hour.