Wednesday 20 November 2019

Simon English: If Manchester United shares get any lower, expect Glazers to grab first chance of an exit

Old Trafford
Old Trafford

How low do Manchester United shares have to go before someone comes in with another takeover bid that the much (and fairly) maligned Glazer family decide offers a good chance to take the money and run?

New York outfit PrivCo says the stock is worth no more than $5 a share. That compares with a float price of $14 that only stayed at that level on the first day of trading thanks to emergency support from the brokers behind the deal.

There's still a long way to fall to meet the doomsday prediction, but funny things happen to stocks once sentiment turns defiantly against them.

Companies with strong management and supportive long-term shareholders can withstand such travails. Our job is to run the business, the stock market's job is to value it, the bosses can say. We are doing a better job than it is and will prove so in time.

This doesn't apply at Man U, a business that has seen onfield success continue despite turmoil off it. No one thinks the Glazers have any interest in football or the desires of the fans. They want to make cash, and have done so.

All of which gives the club's float a Facebook feel. Its expectation of future value is based on the 660 million fans it claims across the world.

These are mostly followers in Asia that buy knock-off replica shirts and cheer on Wayne Rooney via pirate TV signals.

Like Facebook clicks on anything but advertisements, it is hard to see how this fandom turns into big dollars for Manchester United.

At $5 a share, Man U is worth about £510m, which compares with debt of towards £400m.

If that were a house, you'd say it was heading towards negative equity. That's the point at which grateful owners get out to anyone willing to take the property off their hands. Now, there are complicating issues, such as the fact that the 10 per cent of equity floated has no voting rights, which makes a bid trickier to pull off. But that's not insurmountable, especially if the seller were keen to move on...

Two years ago The Red Knights, a group of wealthy fans that includes Goldman Sachs' Jim O'Neill, weighed a bid but were put off by the price.

For the next little while, the underwriters will keep putting a floor under the shares, supporting the price to avoid embarrassment. When this period lapses it will be more than of passing interest what happens to the stock price.

The Red Knights might have one eye on it themselves.

Independent News Service

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