The stock is up more than 2% in early trading with investors more surprised at the timing of the announcement than by the decision itself. The satellite radio company says it will repurchase $2B in stock, with no timetable. Liberty Media, which owns 49.8% of Sirius XM, will participate in a way that ensures the effort doesn’t boost or dilute its stake. In addition, on December 28 Sirius XM will pay a 5 cent-a-share special dividend — about $325M — to those who own the stock on December 18. The general feeling was that Sirius XM would return cash to shareholders soon, but not yet: It’s still negotiating to determine the royalty rates it will have to pay for the music it airs, and looking at candidates to replace CEO Mel Karmazin when he leaves in February. The FCC could formally rule by year end that Liberty owns Sirius XM and its satellite licenses. But a lot of companies, including Disney and Dish Network, are announcing dividends ahead of the end of the year: If lawmakers can’t avoid the so-called fiscal cliff tax and budget measures that take effect in January, then dividends will be taxed at a much higher rate. Sirius XM has also signaled that it was ready to return cash to shareholders. Yesterday a syndicate of banks agreed to a new $1.25B five-year senior secured revolving credit facility. CFO David Frear said at an investor conference this week that “to the extent that we don’t have anything to buy” a stock repurchase and/or dividend payment could be “the best thing that I think we can do”, adding that he’d “get back to you soon.”
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