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Liberty posts losses

Board has authorized stock buyback of $20 billion

John Malone’s Liberty Media posted wider losses last quarter and said it’s talking with Time Warner about swapping its TW shares for assets.

Liberty owns a non-voting 4% chunk of TW and said a month ago it was seeking approval from the Federal Trade Commission to convert that into voting shares — a move that would give Malone an influential voice in the future of the giant media conglom.

TW “announced their intent to repurchase quite a lot of stock,” said Liberty’s new CEO, Greg Maffei, on Wednesday. Time Warner’s board has authorized a stock buyback of up to $20 billion. “We are a big stockholder and we would love to get some operating assets. Whether a transaction will come from all that, I can’t forecast. But clearly we’re in discussions with them.”

Wall Streeters think Liberty would ideally like to buy out TW’s 50% stake in jointly owned cable net Court TV.

Liberty’s non-voting TW stock is set to convert to voting shares in February, but Liberty has petitioned regulators to remove the restriction early. It was put in place initially because, at the time Liberty acquired the TW stake, it also owned cable operations that were in direct competition with Time Warner’s. Malone sold out the cable biz to AT&T in the late ’90s.

Liberty and News Corp. have discussed swapping assets for News Corp. stock, but haven’t been able to hit on a solution. News Corp., meanwhile, has instituted a semi-permanent “poison pill” provision to make it harder for Malone to acquire additional shares and attempt a takeover.

Liberty Media also said Wednesday its losses widened to $86 million in the fourth quarter from $2 million the year before. Revenue rose 13% to $2.45 billion, fueled by sales growth at home shopping net QVC.

Revenue at Starz Encore was about flat at $247 million. Starz posted an operating loss of $2 million vs. operating income of $1 million a year earlier.