Sirius Gets Set for Liberty Showdown (Update 1)

Tickers in this article: F LMCA SIRI

Updated from 10:36 a.m. EST to provide analyst comments in the sixth paragraph.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Despite announcing record revenue, Sirius XM continues to hold onto its cash, potentially paving the way for a future battle with majority shareholder Liberty Media .

Liberty Media already owns 40% of Sirius as a result of a $530 million loan it provided the satellite radio company in 2009, and has been looking for a way to gain majority control of Sirius, though it's barred from additional purchases.

With Sirius having $747 million in cash at the end of the quarter and approximately $700 million in free cash flow, investors were hoping for a return of cash, either via a dividend or a buyback. CEO Mel Karmazin spoke of retiring debt at favorable terms, not giving back cash, which would increase Liberty's stake.

Karmazin did speak of returning cash, but said the board of directors has not announced anything yet. "We believe a good use of our cash is to return capital to shareholders," he said on the conference call. "We've talked about acquisitions as something we would consider, but there's nothing we're seeing out there we feel anxious about acquiring."

With nearly one-third of Sirius' record 22.3 million subscribers paying the higher monthly prices, the company's free cash flow will continue to rise. Eventually Sirius will have to do something with its cash, but that may not be this year, according to one analyst.

Aaron Watts, analyst at Deutsche Bank, believes Sirius is likely to refinance remaining debt as soon as economically feasible, having repurchased $129.6 million worth of debt since the start of 2012. "Further, we anticipate the board will eventually consider returning capital to shareholders with SIRI hovering around 3x leverage," Watts explained, in a research note. He rates Sirius shares "hold."

Sirius has a lot of flexibility with its balance sheet, but Karmazin and CFO David Frear are very mindful of the Liberty stake, and they may be playing a game with Liberty, says Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan. "Liberty would like them to return some cash to shareholders, but I think Mel and David are going to be cautious on returning cash. I think share repurchases are more of a 2013 event than 2012," Harrigan told TheStreet. He rates Sirius "hold" with a $2 price target.

Liberty may eventually increase its stake from 40% to 51% in a variety of ways, but they will be mindful of the economy, given Sirius' dependence on new car sales from Ford , General Motors and Chrysler. Harrigan believes that Liberty will get a majority stake in Sirius in the "next two years" but whether it's friendly control or not is a different story.

Earlier this morning, Sirius generated record first-quarter revenue, pulling in $805 million in sales, and earning 2 cents a share. That's up from $724 million in the first-quarter of 2011, when it earned 1 cent a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for $803.83 million in revenue and earnings of 2 cents a share.

Sirius shares fell slightly in Tuesday trading, losing 2 cents, or 0.67%, to reach $2.24.

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--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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Tickers in this article: F LMCA SIRI