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Diller Keeps Liberty Rhetoric In Check

2/08/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

IAC chairman Barry Diller kept the kid gloves on with regards to his public legal battle with Liberty Media during IAC’s fourth-quarter conference call last Wednesday, merely calling the situation “unfortunate.”

Diller, who had earlier called Liberty management “insane” in published reports, kept his vitriol in check for the most part.

The battle between the two heated up in January, when Liberty filed suit in Delaware Chancery Court to block the split of IAC into five separate publicly traded entities. Liberty’s suit — in response to an IAC suit in the same court to affirm its take on the split — claimed that Diller and IAC were attempting a “corporate coup.”

Diller said that the company is currently scheduled to go to court on March 10 and that an initial decision could come a few weeks after that. Diller said that could push plans for the split back about a month or so, but added, “at this point, we just don’t know.”

“It [the litigation with Liberty] is of course an unfortunate situation,” Diller said. “We organized the process in such a way where no harm would have come to Liberty prior to the court resolving our dispute. I do wish that Liberty hadn’t raised the roof on this, but I will do everything I can not to let it become a significant distraction in the running of the businesses.”

“Responding to the many false allegations in the litigation is just a pointless exercise,” Diller continued. “All the directors, including Liberty’s, approved the spin concept. And nothing that has happened or is likely to happen ought to deter that very right course.”

Diller may have been a bit more contrite in light of his company’s disappointing fourth quarter.

IAC reported a $370 million loss for the quarter ($1.31 per share) compared to a $15.3 million profit (5 cents per share) in the prior year quarter. One of the reasons for the loss was performance at its Lending Tree online-mortgage unit, which reported a 55% drop in revenue in the quarter and an operating loss of $508.1 million, mainly due to write-downs tied to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Other units fared better. The retailing division, including the HSN home shopping channel, reported revenue growth of 8% (excluding America’s Store, which was shuttered in April) in the period to $905.7 million although operating income fell 7% to $79.1 million.