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Analysts Weigh in on John Malone's Showdown with Mel Karmazin-Led Sirius XM

John Malone
Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Liberty Media "is showing its muscle" as it looks at raising its stake in the satellite radio firm from 40 percent to majority control, says one Wall Street observer.

NEW YORK - Analysts on Monday weighed in on a brewing showdown between media mogul John Malone's Liberty Media and satellite radio firm Sirius XM, in which in owns a big stake.

Late last week, it emerged that Sirius, led by CEO Mel Karmazin, has asked the FCC to "dismiss or deny" an application by Liberty for approval to take "de facto" control of the satellite radio firm via earth station licenses and other assets.

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Liberty currently owns a 40 percent stake in Sirius and has kept its options open about possibly increasing it following the recent expiration of an agreement that blocked it from doing so.

"Liberty is showing its muscle and is likely to move to 51 percent eventually," Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan told THR on Monday. "There is no need to get to 80 or 100 percent. The company wants to make sure it has input on capital structure and technology strategies." He also called Sirius a "great business."

S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi said that the FCC filing by Sirius "could presage [a] protracted and potentially distracting governance tussle with its largest shareholder." He added: "With Liberty evidently seeking some maneuver for its preferred stock…and potential near-term upside for public shareholders with improving fundamentals, we raise our 12-month target price by $0.50 to $3."

Liberty Media may be using the moves "to gain access to the core business assets that drive Sirius," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce. "These moves come ahead of the previously anticipated stock buybacks that otherwise could have increased Liberty’s 40 percent stake to more than 50 percent, in which case Liberty would have more control. Perhaps the FCC applications are a negotiating move...perhaps a different arrangement that could increase Liberty’s financial control could result."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai