14 febbraio 2009

Anche Liberty Media interessata a Sirius XM?

Se Sirius non riuscirà a raccogliere il denaro necessario per onorare una prima rata dei suoi debiti entro martedì, il Chapter 11 fallimentare potrebbe scattare già in quella data. Questa la teoria del Washington Post e di altri giornali, che in queste ore hanno parlato di un secondo possibile acquirente per Sirius dopo EchoStar/Dish Network: il concorrente televisivo satellitare Liberty Media/DirectTV, guidato da un altro veterano dell'industria, John Malone, un manager ben noto per il suo pelo sullo stomaco. Come si spiegherebbe tutto questo interesse nei confronti di Sirius? Secondo MarketWatch, agli operatori piace l'idea di poter combinare servizi televisivi e radiofonici e rafforzare così la propria posizione sul mercato. Nel caso di Liberty Media potrebbe essere un interesse del tutto opposto. Malone punterebbe a rendere l'affare Sirius meno appetibile per EchoStar, che a quel punto si ritroverebbe con una voragine di costi e debiti e rischierebbe essa stessa il fallimento (Malone è sempre stato molto simpatico ai commentatori americani, fin dai tempi di TCI). Poi c'è sempre l'ipotesi dello spettro: spegnendo la radio si potrebbero utilizzare le frequenze per servizi dati broadband, cosa che però solleverebbe parecchi conflitti con la FCC.
Comunque sia il tema sta appassionando molto i giornali economic che versano sulla vicenda metri e metri di colonne. Sirius XM ha più di 3 miliardi di debiti, ma ha anche 20 milioni di abbonati che in cassa portano 2 miliardi lordi all'anno. Gli investitori cominciano a chiedersi se il merger tra Sirius e XM sia stata una buona idea. Un anno fa XM in borsa valeva 12 dollari. Ieri il titolo Sirius XM ha chiuso a 10 centesimi.

Sirius XM Preparing Worst-Case Scenario

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sirius XM Radio said yesterday that the company may file for bankruptcy as early as Tuesday if it cannot find a way to renegotiate its debt payment of $175 million.
The nation's only satellite radio provider said it is trying to strike a deal with its debt holders to refinance, or find investors to shore up the company.
"These transactions may not be successfully consummated," the company said in a statement.
It was the first official word from Sirius on its race to save itself. In recent days, investors have reacted to a flurry of speculation over the fate of the satellite radio provider that hosts shock jock Howard Stern and domestic diva Martha Stewart.
The company's stock, which was trading near $4 a share one year ago, closed yesterday at 10 cents.
Sirius chief executive Mel Karmazin has been in talks in recent days with potential investors to buy the company's debt in exchange for a stake in the firm. Karmazin has reached out to Charles Ergen, owner of television satellite operator Dish Network, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Analysts said satellite television companies, including Liberty Media, would be most likely to invest in Sirius because their technologies would complement each other.
But some analysts doubt Liberty would want to invest in Sirius for its digital satellite radio business.
"Liberty involvement is more likely an effort by Sirius XM to attract a competing bidder . . . we don't believe (the) company is fundamentally interested in becoming involved in the satellite radio business," Vijay Jayant, an analyst at Barclays Capital, wrote in a report.
Sirius's most attractive assets are its 20 million subscribers, who bring in $2 billion in revenue a year, and the valuable radio spectrum the company owns.
But any potential buyer could be strapped with more financial problems down the line.
On top of the $175 million in debt due in days, Sirius XM has a total debt load of $3.2 billion. The company said it has refinanced a separate tranche of bonds worth $172.5 million that will mature in December for new debt due in 2011, a move to alleviate some of its burden.
But it has not found a way to pay the $175 million coming due early next week that must be paid or the company will break its agreement with bondholders. Bankruptcy would not result in the termination of service, analysts said, but could lead to a change in programming as debt holders would be able to force the company to break contracts with on-air talent like Stern and Oprah Winfrey.
The challenges facing Sirius are multiple. After an 18-month regulatory review of Sirius's merger with XM, the union was finally approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice just as the financial crisis had frozen credit markets and consumers clamped down on spending.
The company has never been profitable, and it is burdened with heavy costs to run its satellite technology and expensive contracts to fill radio programs. Sirius pays Howard Stern $100 million a year -- one-tenth of its debt due this year. And it has to share revenue from automobile subscriptions with carmakers that outfit new cars with satellite radios.
Moreover, the fast-evolving technological landscape has brought an onslaught of competitors to the consumer audio market. Sirius's $13-a-month radio subscription provides exclusive shows, but consumers are also getting access to more and more free media products online through sites like Pandora and digital music files downloaded to their iPods.
"This may be a chance for Ergen to get his hands on some valuable assets at a discounted price," said Tuna Amobi an analyst at Standard & Poor's. But he said any takeover would come with Sirius' continued financial and business handicaps.
"All the focus has been on the Feb. 17 deadline," Amobi said, "but there is another tranche due in May and another in December as well."


Why satellite-TV moguls see value in Sirius XM
By David B. Wilkerson, MarketWatch
Feb. 13, 2009

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- Among those who still seem to believe in the future of satellite radio are the heads of the two largest U.S. satellite-television providers -- and that has to count for something.
Charlie Ergen, chairman of Dish Network, and John Malone, chairman of Liberty Media, the parent company of DirecTV, are in negotiations to acquire control of troubled Sirius XM Satellite Radio Inc., according to Wall Street Journal and New York Times reports.
Sirius XM, hemorrhaging money and saddled with $2.8 billion in long-term debt as of Sept. 30, has reportedly been considering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Ergen had made an offer for the company not long ago, but Sirius XM turned him down. He hasn't given up.
Now Malone has stepped in.
Representatives of Sirius XM and Dish Network declined to comment Friday. A Liberty Media spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
There are perfectly logical reasons for Dish Network and DirecTV to be interested in acquiring Sirius XM, according to experts.
"Under both their mission statements, Sirius XM would fit quite easily," said Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman and senior analyst at the Carmel Group, a telecommunications research firm in Carmel, Calif. "They're both looking for a bundle to tie up with their satellite-TV services, something unique that they could use to compete with the telephone companies and the cable operators."
While technical limitations prohibit satellite providers from directly providing telephone service or a state-of-the art broadband offering, Dish or DirecTV could offer a package that includes satellite radio.
Also valuable to the satellite-TV players is the radio spectrum Sirius XM owns, which could be used for a variety of purposes, including wireless transmissions.
Now, however, the situation seems to be pitting two outsized personalities against each other. And that adds some intrigue. Malone and Ergen have crossed swords before, going back to the days when Malone ran Tele-Communications Inc.; TCI was the biggest U.S. cable provider at the time.
"There's a school of thought that says Malone is just trying to game Charlie Ergen into raising the bid and ultimately bankrupting himself, so that Malone would have the whole field to himself," said Hal Vogel, president of Vogel Capital Management in New York. "It is a possibility, knowing how these guys play."
Whatever happens, said Schaeffler, Sirius XM will go on "forever" as a service, one with a sizeable -- and still growing -- subscriber list of 20 million customers.
Disgruntled shareholders
That's not much comfort to shareholders -- people like Don Hodges, co-portfolio manager of the Hodges Fund. "I don't know what to make of it all," Hodges said of the company's possible bankruptcy or sale.
"I'm beginning to wonder if [Sirius and XM] should have even merged," Hodges said. "Since the merger has been completed, it's just gone downhill. XM had some value before the merger. I'm pretty disillusioned with the whole thing."
Chart of SIRI
Hodges bought his position in what was then XM Satellite when the stock was at $12, only to find Sirius XM trading at 11 cents Friday.
"I hope somebody does come in and take it away from [Chairman Mel] Karmazin, because he obviously doesn't know what he's doing," Hodges said.

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