Sports Direct share price sinks after founder cuts stake

Tuesday 08 April 2014 18.28
Sports Direct's Mike Ashley cuts his stake in the group by over 4%
Sports Direct's Mike Ashley cuts his stake in the group by over 4%

Shares in Sports Direct, Britain's biggest sporting goods retailer, have closed more than 9% lower after its founder Mike Ashley cut his stake and raised over £200m.
              
The sell-off cuts Mr Ashley's stake in the group by 4% to 57.7%.

It follows the surprise decision last week by the remaining Sports Direct investors to oppose a proposed bonus share scheme for Mr Ashley worth £73m, the third time such a payout plan has failed.
              
It also comes as investors try to understand the tactics behind the firm's surprise purchase of an 11% stake in British department stores operator House of Fraser, which emerged at the weekend.

Mr Ashley rarely gives interviews and is known for taking stakes in his rivals.

He paid around £20m to buy businessman Tom Hunter's stake in House of Fraser after China's Sanpower Group agreed to acquire 89% of the group in a deal worth over £450m, including debt. 

A statement today from China's Nanjing Xinjiekou Dept Store, the listed retail arm of Sanpower Group, said it was preparing to sign the deal shortly and that it planned to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary in the UK to acquire the stake.
              
Mr Ashley is known to have long held an interest in buying House of Fraser, although any attempt to derail Sanpower's move looks to have failed with the transaction expected to complete this week, according to a source close to the deal.

House of Fraser said that pre-emption rights meant Mr Hunter was obliged to formally offer his shares to existing shareholders before selling to an outside party.

f this procedure is found not to have taken place then Mr Ashley could face having to return his holding back to Mr Hunter.
              
Sports Direct would not comment on the transaction. 
              
Mr Ashley's sale of 24 million Sports Direct shares at £8.50 each was not linked to the House of Fraser acquisition, according to another source familiar with the situation, but instead designed to increase the free float in Sports Direct shares based on demand from institutional investors.
              
Mr Ashley, who founded Sports Direct in 1982, has a stake now worth around £2.77 billion but has yet to be paid a salary or bonus from the firm.
              
The share sale and House of Fraser deal are the latest in a long line of surprise moves by Mr Ashley, whose maverick management style has helped his Sports Direct empire grow rapidly in recent years.
              
In January he kicked off the new year with another surprise move, selling a stake just bought in British department store Debenhams for a profit of about £4.6m and betting on its share price holding up with a complex option deal.

In recent weeks, Mike Ashley - who also owns a stake in Heaton's retail chain - lost out on a bid for Co Mayo-based sports chain Elvery's.