Iraq: Ergen Sees Dollar Bills Where Others See Blood

06 March 2003

Visions of dollar bills cascading from the skies and into his outstretched arms have set heavenly cash registers ringing in the ears of EchoStar Communications chairman Charlie Ergen.

Such manna might even compensate for the $600 million of shareholders’ cash handed by Ergen to Hughes Electronics as a break-up fee after competition regulators blocked his intended takeover of larger satellite broadcasting rival DirecTV [WAMN: 11-Dec-02].

Ergen, usually renowned for his tight-fisted approach to costs, did not exude contrition for this punt with other people’s cash: “We made a $600m bet that we would get approval,” he said. “We cost our shareholders $600m as a result of that failed initiative.”

His insouciance accompanied the announcement of a $716 million (€652.94m; £449.03m) net loss in Q4 2002 – during which period EchoStar added no fewer than 400,000 new subscribers, mostly snatched from the more expensive cable TV platforms.

This gain, together with the lip-smacking prospect of war on Iraq, lifted Ergen into sanguinary euphoria: “The ultimate reality show is about to play on TV – it’s called ‘War in Iraq’. It’s going to get huge ratings. And people are going to need satellite dishes to watch all the news services.”

Wall Street liked the sound of this. EchoStar shares on NASDAQ in New York rose 6.55% ($1.70) to $27.65 at Tuesday’s close.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff