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Disney investors worry Beijing could be tricky Fox deal hurdle

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Now that 21st Century Fox shareholders have signed off on the US$71.3 billion sale of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney, some investors are already fretting about the next hurdle: regulatory clearance from China.

[NEW YORK] Now that 21st Century Fox shareholders have signed off on the US$71.3 billion sale of its entertainment assets to Walt Disney, some investors are already fretting about the next hurdle: regulatory clearance from China.

The deal, though already given a green light by the US Department of Justice, still needs antitrust approval from 15 other regulators around the globe. That includes China's State Administration for Market Regulation because a small proportion - less than two per cent - of Fox's revenue is generated in that country.

Some investors are concerned that China might use this deal to retaliate against as much as US$500 billion in import tariffs threatened by President Donald Trump, who called Fox co-chairman Rupert Murdoch to congratulate him when the transaction was unveiled in December. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time that Mr Trump thought the deal could be a "great thing for jobs."

That's one reason why Fox shares are trading as though there's about a 20 per cent chance the deal will fail, said people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorised to speak to the media.

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Market voices on:

"Any deal that needs China's approval could be used as leverage and a strategic tool in a trade war," Bloomberg Intelligence legal analyst Jennifer Rie said after the Fox shareholder vote Friday.

Qualcomm's failure this week to win Chinese approval for its US$44 billion takeover of NXP Semiconductors increases the risks for any other US companies involved in deals requiring China's approval, according to Ms Rie.

"But I would be surprised if regulators in China tried to do to the same thing to Disney/Fox," she said. "Unlike the Qualcomm case, it's not credible that there are competition concerns that prevent China's approval. Using antitrust as an excuse would look like a straw man."

A representative for Fox declined to comment.

"We remain confident that we will be able to close the transaction in the 12-to-18 month period as we previously stated," a Disney spokeswoman said.

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