By Ben Martin
LONDON (Reuters) - Activist hedge fund Elliott believes Walt Disney’s (DIS.N) deal to buy assets from Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O) has valued Sky (SKYB.L) at more than $34 billion, higher than any of the current offers for the British broadcaster, Britain’s takeover regulator disclosed on Wednesday.
Sky is at center of a bidding battle between Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, which already owns 39 percent of the pay-television company, and U.S. cable giant Comcast (CMCSA.O).
Disney has also agreed a separate deal to buy TV and film assets from Fox, including its Sky shareholding, for about $71 billion. Disney was forced to raise the price it is paying for the Fox businesses in June to $38 a share after Comcast also tried to gate-crash that deal.
Comcast currently has the upper-hand in the fight for Sky after it offered 14.75 pounds a share for the broadcaster last month, trumping a sweetened 14 pounds a share bid that Fox made earlier in July.
But Elliott, which owns a 4.3 percent stake in Sky, and hedge funds Davidson Kempner and Farallon Capital have argued that Sky is worth at least 15.01 pounds a share in the wake of Disney’s improved offer for the Fox assets, British regulator the Takeover Panel said on Wednesday.
That would value Sky as a whole at about 26.4 billion pounds ($34.3 billion), according to Reuters calculations.
Elliott and the two other funds did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
At issue is the price Disney might be forced to offer to take full control of Sky. This is set by the Panel and essentially puts a floor under Sky’s shares, which closed at 15.44 pounds on Wednesday in London.
The Panel ruled in April that Disney would have to buy Sky if its deal for the Fox assets completes before either Fox or Comcast have managed to take control of the British broadcaster.
In the wake of Disney’s improved offer for the Fox businesses in June, the Panel decided in July that any compulsory offer for Sky should be priced at 14 pounds a share. That ruling was then reviewed and upheld by the Takeover Appeal Board, an independent body, earlier this month after “several interested parties” lodged appeals against the decision.
The Panel and the Takeover Appeal Board identified the challengers on Wednesday, disclosing for the first time that Elliott, Davidson Kempner and Farallon had unsuccessfully argued for a mandatory Disney offer of no lower than 15.01 pounds a share.
Sky’s independent directors had contended that the level of any mandatory Disney offer be set at 14.59 pounds a share, the Panel and the Appeal Board said.
Meanwhile, Fox had believed the compulsory Disney offer should have been fixed at 12.50 pounds a share but had accepted the regulator's original ruling of 14 pounds, according to the Panel and the Appeal Board.
They added that Disney, which had also not challenged the Panel's decision, had put a 12.50 pound a share price tag on the 39 percent Sky stake when it revised its offer for the Fox assets.
The disclosure of the different parties’ valuations is significant because the battle for Sky is not over.
Both Fox and Comcast have until Sept. 22 to lift their offers for the pay-TV group if they decide to do so. If Sky’s future is not resolved by then, the Panel has the power to intervene and run a formal auction to bring the bidding war to an end.
(Reporting by Ben Martin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Jane Merriman)