This Week in Sirius XM Radio


Things never get dull for the country's lone satellite-radio provider. Shares of Sirius XM Radio revisited the prior week's high of $3.19 -- a four-year high -- as investors continue to warm up to the media giant's potential.

The biggest news of the week was that Liberty Media finally gained majority control of Sirius XM, though a few other things happened that investors should notice:

  • Pandora struck a deal with a music publisher for higher royalty rates.

  • Sirius XM announced the time and date for its next quarterly earnings call.

  • The end of the NHL lockout earlier this month means Sirius XM is resuming its coverage of live pro hockey, starting with this weekend's busy slate of season openers.

Let's take a closer look.

Liberty for all
Ever since the FCC gave its blessings in Liberty Media's plan to take majority control of Sirius XM earlier this month, it was merely a matter of time before John Malone's odd media empire would boost its share of the satellite-radio behemoth from its effective 49.8% stake.

Well, that happened on Tuesday, when Liberty Media spent an average of $3.156 a share to buy 50 million more shares of Sirius XM. The move pushes its ownership stake to roughly 50.5%.

There was little reason for Liberty Media to wait. Time is money, especially when it comes to Sirius XM as an investment. The stock has climbed sharply higher for four consecutive years. Once regulators gave Liberty Media the clearance to assume control of the company, the smart move was to buy now instead of waiting to pay more later.

There's still plenty of speculation as to exactly what Malone and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei will do here, though the most popular theory is that Liberty Media will now spin off its stake in Sirius XM to stakeholders -- just as Liberty Media spun off its premium movie service provider Starz to investors earlier this month -- in a tax-advantaged transaction. Since Liberty Media acquired its original 40% preferred-share stake in Sirius XM four years ago for free, arranging for a tax-advantaged distribution is huge, given the company's ridiculously low cost basis.

There are other possibilities. Liberty Media can just enjoy its position of control, and that starts right now with deciding whether it wants to keep interim CEO James Meyer or look for somebody else. There doesn't seem to be a good reason to replace Meyer. Sirius XM continues to be a well-oiled machine.

Liberty Media can also acquire the rest of Sirius XM, but that may prove to be costly. It already has majority control, so it's not as if the company has to pay much of a premium, but why buy all of the cow when it already has secured all of the milking rights?

Panned aura
Remember when Pandora was testifying before Congress last year, trying to lower the music royalties that it pays out to major label and artists by backing the Internet Radio Fairness Act?

Well, Pandora's royalties will actually be going higher, not lower, on one front. Pandora struck a royalty deal with Sony/ATV -- the joint-venture between Sony and the estate of Michael Jackson -- that will increase publisher royalties by 25% for Pandora.

Pandora's stock took a hit on the news.

Is this good news or bad news for Sirius XM? Well, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, ad-supported streaming music services will have a harder time staying in business. If Pandora's struggling to remain consistently profitable with 67.1 million active accounts, what hope do smaller players have?

The bad news is that Sirius XM does want to be a bigger player in streaming audio. As a premium service, it's in a great position to absorb the higher royalties, but this is not an ideal situation.

Circle Feb. 5 on your calendar
Sirius XM will report its fourth-quarter results on Feb. 5. The report will go out shortly before a morning conference call, and there probably won't be too many surprises. Sirius XM already announced that it closed out the year with 23.9 million subscribers.

Sirius XM has even already initiated its guidance for 2013. Just in case you've forgotten, let's go over the figures again.

  • Revenue will top $3.7 billion.

  • Adjusted EBITDA should be more than $1.1 billion.

  • Free cash flow will approach $900 million.

  • Sirius XM is targeting 1.4 million net subscriber additions this year.

The outlook calls for modest growth, but just remember how Sirius XM kept revising its conservative outlook higher as 2012 played out. As long as auto sales remain strong and churn stays in check, the media giant is in a great position to build on those metrics as the year plays on.

These are interesting times for Sirius XM. They always are.

Rock on
Even though Sirius XM has been one of the market's biggest winners since bottoming out three years ago, there's still some healthy upside to be had if things go right for it -- and plenty of room for it to fall if things don't. Read all about Sirius in our brand-new premium report. To get started, just click here now.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz owns shares of Liberty Media. The Motley Fool is short Sony. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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