Diller: No Blockbuster Acquisitions In The Cards But If You Want To Buy Ask …

Updated: Don’t think big thoughts when you look at that $1.8 billion-plus in IAC’s bank account: Barry Diller is sticking to his guns when it comes to major acquisitions. He told analysts during the Q3 earnings call that he’s more inclined to repatriate the money through buybacks, not through M&A investment. But Diller did hold out the idea that search engine Ask.com, mired in fourth place, could be in play, suggesting that while he isn’t buying, he isn’t averse to being acquired or merged. Diller told analysts IAC (NSDQ: IACI) is often asked about “consolidating transactions in the area of search. The answer is yes. And, it is unlikely that we would be the consolidator.”

Later in the same call, Diller was asked about ad campaigns to grow market share and sending a warning note to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and its heavy Bing spend, said in his experience advertising to raise search engine awareness was expensive with little return — “momentary attention” without much retention. That fits with a report from Reuters citing a source familiar with IAC’s strategy who describes Diller as disappointed by the inability to move the dime on Ask.com.

M&A: Diller: “Our discipline in terms of acquisitions is pretty tight. … It’s unlikely — I can’t say it won’t happen — but I just don’t believe we’re going to be out there making a big acquisition. The smaller acquisitions you’ve seen us make have been very hard headed and, in all respects, successful with very nice returns. It’s why I’ve said I believe over the next years that repatriation is going to be what’s going to happen with this capital, rather than investment either in acquisitions or that much in our own businesses.”

As a sign of that, IAC has been making more from dispositions like OpenTable stock, Match Europe, than it has spent on acquisitions. CFO Tom McInerney said this year IAC’s net cash spend was under $50 million.