Header image

Dealspeak: Surge in take-privates, is Sports Direct next?

In keeping with the controversy that often accompanies him, Mike Ashley, CEO and 61%-owner of Sports Direct [LON:SPD], caused a stir with one of the more inflammatory stock exchange announcements likely to be issued this month. This time, he accused shareholders of backstabbing.


The claims levelled at those less-supportive investors give rise to suggestions that Ashley could buy them out and take his company private.

If Ashley follows through, he’d be by no means alone.

This year, London Stock Exchange [LON:LSE] has lost, or is in the process of losing, 17 companies, worth a combined GPB 8.8bn, to private hands. This already surpasses the 15 such deals worth GBP 7bn that took place throughout the whole of 2017. Sports Direct has a GBP 1.85bn market cap.


Top Public-to-Private Deals in 2018

Announced Date

Target Company

Bidder Company

Bidder Dominant Country

Seller Company

Seller Dominant Country

Deal Value GBP(m)

11/05/2018

ZPG Plc

Silver Lake Partners

USA

Daily Mail and General Trust Plc

United Kingdom

2541

20/04/2018

Fidessa Group Plc

ION Investment Group Limited

Ireland (Republic)



1453

01/03/2018

Laird Plc

Advent International Corporation

USA



1163

31/07/2018

Vedanta Resources Plc (33.48% Stake)

Volcan Investments Ltd

United Kingdom



781

13/09/2018

Chaucer Insurance Group Plc

China Reinsurance (Group) Corporation

China

The Hanover Insurance Group Inc

USA

662


Elsewhere earlier this month, Institutional Shareholder Services noted “ongoing operational, governance and risk oversight concerns” at the company, criticising its “apparent unwillingness” to address the worries of independent shareholders.

Ashley’s boisterous boardroom behaviour has often spilled into the mainstream press, with one observer likening his latest outburst to that of Tesla’s [NASDAQ:TSLA] Elon Musk, who last month made threats of his own to pull his company from the public markets. Musk fires off one tweet and before you know it, all the kids are doing it.

Anecdotes of Ashley’s colourful behaviour are plentiful, such as describing himself as a “power drinker” during a High Court battle last year. He successfully defended himself against a former banker and colleague, who claimed that Ashley agreed to pay him GBP 15m if Sports Direct shares doubled in value, by stating he was so drunk he does not remember making the deal.

Though some shareholders’ concerns may hold water, there are two sides to every argument. Ashley took the opportunity in his missive to remind shareholders that “despite significant challenges within the retail sector in the UK and beyond, which have resulted in many retailers failing, Sports Direct has continued to perform well and exceed market expectations.”

Since taking the position of CEO in September 2016, Sports Direct shares have risen 13%, from trading around the GBP 2.85 level to GBP 3.43 today, despite dipping on the back of Ashley’s missive.

Yet, shares in Sports Direct have underperformed the FTSE 250 index over one, three and five years. But on a 10-year horizon, it has delivered annualised returns of around 17% versus the FTSE 250’s 12%.

Perhaps Ashley has a point. Sports Direct may be a business with a controversially outspoken, but generally successful leader, better off in private hands than those of the public.

Ashley hints as much: “It is blatantly apparent that true entrepreneurs will never be accepted in the public arena. The media circus surrounding Sports Direct, including but not restricted to matters connected to our [annual shareholder meeting], only proves that whatever progress Sports Direct makes, it will always be subject to disproportionate scrutiny and misrepresentation.”

It beats blaming Ambien.

 

Target: Sports Direct International Plc

Source: Proprietary Intelligence

Size: 

Value: 

Stake Value: more than 30% inclusive

Grade: Strong evidence

Alert: Dealspeak

Intelligence ID: 2708480


Jonathan Klonowski Research Editor EMEA Mergermarket
Jonathan Klonowski Research Editor EMEA Mergermarket

Join My Mergermarket Events

Get exclusive content from our leading M&A and private equity events.

Watch sessions again, download presentations and get exclusive interviews.

Connect with an international community of dealmakers via our event networking app (for attendees only).

Sign Up