Diller’s USAI acquires netco Lending Tree

Co. owns Ticketmaster, Expedia, Hotels.com

This article was corrected on May 7, 2003.

Barry Diller’s USA Interactive Monday inked a deal to acquire online financial services group Lending Tree for about $700 million in stock.

The purchase adds finance and real estate to Diller’s rapidly expanding array of Internet assets. Both areas “are at an early stage of online migration,” USAI said, and ripe for expansion. USAI also owns Ticketmaster, Expedia, Hotels.com, Match.com, Citysearch and Home Shopping Network, among others.

USAI is flush with cash. But, as its latest deal shows, it’s also one of a small group of companies with sturdy enough shares to do all stock transactions.

Diller has been aggressively retooling USAI, buying 100% control of partly owned units to simplify its corporate structure. He’s ostensibly devoting his full attention to USAI after stepping down as head of Vivendi Universal Entertainment earlier this year. However, USAI owns more than 5% of VUE.

Diller has said he plans to transform that stake into cash or other currency in the next six to 12 months and may well be part of a consortium bidding for the VUE assets that parent Vivendi formally put up for sale last week.

USAI shares fell 2.46% Monday to $34.10.

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