Liberty Media splits stake in DirecTV

Liberty Entertainment nabs 50% of division

John Malone is big-game hunting again.

Malone’s Liberty Media said Wednesday it will split off its stake in DirecTV into subsid Liberty Entertainment, which will include the nearly 50% stake in the satcaster plus all of the Starz cablers and three regional sports nets. The DirecTV stake will account for more than 80% of the value of the new entity.

The move is seen as a way to enable Malone to acquire the rest of DirecTV or entertain other dealmaking options. Last March, Liberty launched a tracking stock for the entertainment assets in order to allow investors to discern their value, seeking to combat a common knock on Liberty that its structure is too convoluted.

Wednesday’s move converts the tracking stock, a once-popular device wherein the shares hold no actual value, to an asset-backed security. It will “create a stronger currency and allow greater flexibility to pursue our strategic objectives,” said Liberty prexy-CEO Greg Maffei.

The new entity will hold about $2 billion in debt.

Wall Street had long expected the move, and some analysts even registered some surprise that the announcement wasn’t accompanied by news of an increased stake in DirecTV.

Shares in Liberty Entertainment gained almost 2% on the day to close near their highest level yet at $27.53.

Over the summer Malone has spoken about a deal with Time Warner to acquire AOL’s access business.

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