AOL held about 80 million shares of Hughes, or around 8.4 percent of the company. AOL got the shares as part of a $1.5 billion deal it signed in 1999 with Hughes, the parent company of satellite TV provider DirecTV and a subsidiary of General Motors.
AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said the divestment was part of an overall plan to reduce AOL Time Warner's $26 billion debt load. She did not offer any financial details of the sale. But a Wall Street source said the Hughes stake was offered on the open market for $9.90 per share plus commission by Bank of America. Hughes shares closed Tuesday at $10.45.
AOL is expected to take significant noncash charges on Wednesday when it reports results for the fourth quarter.
The company is expected to report a profit of 27 cents a share, excluding charges, on $11.2 billion in revenue, according to a consensus of analysts polled by First Call.
For all of 2002, analysts project earnings of 87 cents per share, excluding charges, on nearly $41 billion in revenue. If the company reaches that full-year revenue target, it will show improvement from the $38.2 billion reported for 2001.
News.com's Jim Hu and Reuters contributed to this report.