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Liberty Media (NASDAQ: LMCA ) is getting hungry again.
Shares of Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR ) jumped as much as 11% today, after reports surfaced that Liberty Media was eyeing a 25% stake in the cable television provider.
Liberty Media's John Malone loves to collect media companies, often overlooking a model's shortcomings if the price is right.
Charter has seen better days. Like many cable providers, Charter's dealing with cord cutters. Video customers have declined by 4% over the past year, dipping below 4 million. Revenue is still inching higher, though, as Charter is milking more subscription revenue from its existing cable customers and encouraging more of them to bundle their cable plans with Internet access and telephone service.
Unlike most of its rivals, Charter is struggling to turn a profit -- and that's something that analysts don't see happening until next year. That's probably also a dinner bell for Malone. He's been able to buy in cheap for unloved media stocks, cashing in after the company gets its act together.
Liberty Media picked up a 40% preferred share stake in Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ: SIRI ) when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, and the satellite radio giant is now a consistently profitable company throwing off gobs of cash flow.
However, it's perfectly natural for Sirius XM investors to wonder what a play for Charter may mean for Liberty Media's intention with Sirius XM. It would set Liberty Media back roughly $2.5 billion for a 25% share in Charter, and Liberty's been known to go back for more. It happened with Sirius XM, where Liberty Media has gone on to acquire a controlling stake of a little more than 50%.
Any notions of Liberty Media making a play to swallow Sirius XM whole may have to wait if there is a move to take a wager on Charter as a turnaround situation.
Sirius XM will survive. As long as car sales hold up and churn and retention rates hold steady, Sirius XM is practically on cruise control with its steady growth. Giving Liberty Media time to formulate a plan on what to do next will ultimately make Sirius XM only that much more valuable.
Sirius XM will be fine. Buying into Charter, on the other hand, seems like an outdated mistake.
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