Ashley wants more shares

Does Mike Ashley want to pick up his ball and go home? The Sports Direct boss asked his long-suffering shareholders to approve another buy-back this week, fuelling speculation that he wants to take his company private again after just ten months on the stock market.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Sports Direct has called an EGM on December 19 to ask for approval to buy back another 36m shares. The retailer has already requested permission to buy back about 10% of its listed stock – now it wants to increase this to nearly 15%. Ashley, who sold about 43% of the company for over £900m in February, has already bumped his stake back up to 68%. If this latest buy-back goes ahead, he’ll own about 72%.

And given that he originally sold this stock at £3 per share, he’ll be getting it back at a tidy profit. The Guardian quotes Pali International analyst Nick Bubb, who estimates that between July and October, Sports Direct bought back 16% of the company ‘for about £160m, at an average price of around 140p’. Which is all very well for Ashley, but not so good for the poor investors who backed him at the time of the flotation.

Not that Sports Direct has ever seemed particularly bothered what the City thinks about it. With its carefree approach to press and investor relations, not to mention its regular profit warnings, it’s already managed to alienate almost every analyst in town. On the evidence of the last ten months, Ashley doesn’t seem to really enjoy life in the public markets – so it wouldn’t be any surprise if he did want to take his baby private again, however much he denies it.

Currently, Sports Direct’s prospects as a public company look about as rosy as those of Sam Allardyce, the manager of Ashley’s Newcastle United. During the team’s thumping by Liverpool this weekend, the fans were taunting Big Sam with chants of: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’. Time will tell whether Ashley has the appetite to put up with similar accusations from the City...

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