It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley. Just as the City was getting to grips with the tycoon’s involvement in the sale of House of Fraser, it emerged last night that Ashley has sold a £223m stake in Sports Direct. This takes his share in the business down from 62% to 56%, although his stake is still worth more than £3bn.
The 25 million shares were sold to Goldman Sachs from Ashley’s personal investment company MASH. Goldman’s will now sell the shares at between 850p and 870p a share, although it has not been disclosed how much Ashley sold them for in the first place.
The surprise move comes a week after investors rejected a generous bonus scheme which would have awarded Ashley with 8 million free shares, worth around £70m. He currently receives no salary or bonus from Sports Direct, the firm he founded in 1982, and the board recommended he should be rewarded for his ‘substantial contribution to the company since its initial public offering in February 2007.’ However, shareholders thought otherwise and threw out the proposal – the second time they had done so in the last two years.
Over the weekend, it was announced that Ashley had bought an 11% stake in House of Fraser from Scottish businessman Sir Tom Hunter, shortly after the announcement of a £450m takeover deal for the department store from Chinese conglomerate Sanpower.
Ashley already controls a 7% stake in rival chain Debenhams. He bought the shares in January in a complex put option, which gives the right to take ownership of up to 81.3m shares in future without directly controlling the holding. It came following a tough Christmas trading period for Debenhams.
It seems Ashley has a history of taking stakes in companies which are going through transitions. Does his sale of £200m Sports Direct shares suggest he has another company in mind?