Ashley fails to get City onside

Listed retailer Sports Direct scored another notable success in its apparent campaign to alienate the City today, with a set of numbers that seemed purposefully designed to pose as many questions as they answered.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Since its flotation in February, which saw founder Mike Ashley pocket a tidy £929m, the share price of Sports Direct has more than halved following a string of profit warnings and an apparent disregard for the niceties of life as a public company.

There was some good news today. The sportswear group didn’t issue a profit warning, as it has done every other time it has spoken to analysts since its flotation. This was despite last week’s surprise profit warning from Umbro, one of the company’s biggest suppliers (although that’s not to say there might not be another coming later this year, of course).

Equally, CEO Dave Forsey did actually produce some numbers – the company made a profit of £149m in the 13 weeks to 29 July, on sales of £335m.

However, he was cagey on earnings forecasts, saying only that there would be “limited” growth. What’s more, he completely refused to provide any comparison with previous years (even as a percentage) – and also declined to comment on its ongoing search for a non-executive chairman to replace David Richardson, who only managed to stick it out three months before quitting.

But Ashley seems totally unconcerned about his bad press. Since the flotation the reclusive billionaire has bought Premiership football club Newcastle United, and continued to accumulate stakes in leading sportswear brands. Today Forsey said the company had bought a 3.87% stake in Umbro, to go with its earlier purchases of Adidas, Amer Sports and Field and Trek (plus its proposed merger with US group Everlast). It has also been busy buying back shares.

Perhaps Ashley would have been better off buying Millwall rather than Newcastle – their traditional anthem of “Nobody likes us and we don’t care” would have made a good corporate song…

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