The satellite radio company’s shares are up 11.4% since early Thursday while other NASDAQ stocks collectively are down 4.4%. What’s going on? Well, it seems that many analysts who attended Liberty Media’s annual dog-and-pony show for them on Thursday came away convinced that Sirius XM is preparing to see John Malone lift his company’s 40% stake well past 50%. He has to wait until March to avoid taking a tax hit on such a move — and we all know how much Malone hates to pay taxes. After that there’d be a tax advantage: Sirius has $8B in net operating losses that could be used to shelter future payments. That’s great now, although the losses “sucked” when the company was racking them up, CEO Mel Karmazin told Liberty investors at last week’s gathering. So, is Liberty interested in buying Sirius? A lot of comments that Liberty CEO Greg Maffei made last week sure make it sound that way. “There are few businesses that I have as much confidence in,” he said. “Boy, it’s got a heck of a tail wind behind it. Find me another business” with as much opportunity. Sirius’ first consumer rate hike, coming in January, “is a great opportunity and there’s a potential for more…(Profit) margins will expand….It’s our kind of business.” He added that his company decided to convert its two tracking stocks — Liberty Starz and Liberty Capital — into a single, asset-backed security in part because “we’ve been seeking attractive investment opportunities.” So would Karmazin, whose contract runs through 2012, want Malone to move in? He didn’t rule it out. Karmazin says that Sirius is “generating so much free cash flow” that the board will consider whether it should return some of that to shareholders. That could include a share repurchase that also would boost Malone’s stake, unless they agree to terms to prevent that. Some believe that Sirius would only repurchase shares if Malone agrees to pay a control premium. But there’s enough out there to persuade Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett upgrade Sirius to “buy” noting that a “mega share repurchase” is “a distinct possibility that we believe is a core part of Liberty Media’s attraction to Sirius.”
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