Some slivers of sunshine amidst the economic clouds today.
First, retail sales are up for the first time in six months, perhaps signaling that consumers aren’t as bearish on the economy as President Obama appears to be. I like the President and certainly wish him success, but his mantra of “we have nothing to fear except a shortage of fear” isn’t going to be celebrated at the Smithsonian anytime soon.
All in all, retail sales climbed one percent in January – the largest increase since December, 2007. The spike may not last, especially if gasoline prices rise, but it’s good news and we’ll take it right now.
Another bit of decent news: the number of people having their homes foreclosed declined in January. In the U.S. last month, about 274,000 homes were hit with a foreclosure notice. That was down 10 percent from December, but still 18 percent higher than a year ago, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif-based foreclosure listing service. Again, who knows if a decline in foreclosures will last, but it’s more welcome relief for U.S. homeowners.
Yesterday I detailed the sad saga on Sirius XM radio. The word on Wall Street was that the satellite radio giant was going under, and that negotiations between EchoStar and Sirius XM had fallen through.
But the news today offers Sirius a ray of hope, not from EchoStar, but from another satellite technology giant – Direct TV. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Sirius XM is in talks with Liberty Media, the parent company of Direct TV. If true, then the deep pockets of Direct TV may save Sirius XM’s bacon, helping it avoid bankruptcy (which looked like a foregone conclusion as of yesterday), and also keep EchoStar at bay from any hostile takeover.
According to The Journal, the negotiations between Liberty and Sirius XM are pretty far along . . . "though the talks between Sirius and Liberty are advanced, a deal remains far from certain. It wasn't clear how much Liberty would be willing to invest in Sirius and whether it would end up with control." Liberty Media Chief Executive John Malone is "known as a careful negotiator and is unlikely to cut a deal in haste," the Journal added.
But haste is exactly what Sirius XM needs. The next payment on its debt ($175 million) is due next week, and right now it looks like Sirius doesn’t have the cash to pay its bills. Says The New York Times this week, “ "The company is unlikely to be able to meet those obligations.”
A merger between Direct TV and Sirius XM would give Liberty a powerful, integrated one-two punch of satellite television and radio. Plus, I’m a Direct TV subscriber and it’s hard not to notice the dozens of XM music channels at the top of the Direct TV dial. The fact that they are already working together may make merger talks go smoother.
As a consumer of both services, I hope the deal goes through. As a Wall Street watcher, though, you have to wonder if the timing is right. It’s a lousy economy and consumers are looking to cut back – and not add arguable luxuries like satellite TV or radio.
We’ll know more on February 17, the date of Sirius XM’s next debt payment. If they make it, then Sirius XM will have bought enough time to barter a good deal with Direct TV.