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Oct 9, 2011

United eye share potential

Manchester United chief executive David Gill has spoken for the first time about the "potential" in floating shares on the Singapore Stock Exchange with the Glazers seemingly now valuing the club at a staggering £2.57 billion.

• United top Forbes rich list at £1.65bn
• United post record operating profits
• Supporters urge Glazers to clear debt
• Singapore floatation edges closer

The Glazers paid £790 million to buy Manchester United - although the final bill amounted to £850 million including the legal and advisory costs - and they recently rejected offers of £1.5 billion from China and Qatar as, it is now clear, they fell well short of their valuation.

The Glazers are seemingly planning to float 25% of Manchester United on the Singapore Stock Exchange at a value of $1 billion (£643 million), which would value Manchester United at £2.57 billion. If the shares are sold, they could carry voting powers of only 12%, which would fall well below the 25% threshold that allows shareholders to contest decision-making.

"It's a potential," Gill told the Sunday Telegraph. "I think the finances of the club are in robust health in terms of the bond interest against the EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] that we do have, so in that respect I am not concerned.

"But it was an opportunity, and is a potential opportunity, to strengthen them even further. If the proceeds were by and large used to pay down the bond debt then that would take some of the interest costs out."

The Glazers' advisory team - including Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Credit Suisse - will inform the owners when the time is right to press ahead with the plans and, given the parlous state of the global economy at present, it appears they will have to wait.

"It is not officially on hold but the owners will be taking appropriate advice from the advisors and determining what the markets are telling us," Gill added. "But I don't think it's the level of the market - it is the sheer volatility. That's the challenge."

Although United recently posted an operating profit of £110.9 million for the past financial year, paying down the bond debt would free up greater funds for investment into the squad. Gill, though, denies Sir Alex Ferguson has been significantly hindered.

"It [the debt] hasn't been a problem," Gill, who was in Senegal to support a UNICEF initiative, said. "There have been a lot of comments and a lot of criticism. On the one hand, you argue clearly our interest costs have gone up now as a limited company, but it is not 45 to 0 because as a listed company we had corporation tax payments, we had dividend payments.

"The owners have never been anything other than 100% supportive on delivering to Alex or me the players we need to keep ourselves going, but people don't believe us.

"If you look at it, we are spending £13 million revamping Carrington [the training ground] and we have just completed this summer at Old Trafford our box redevelopment. There has never been any money that we have needed to develop the club that hasn't come forward."

• Harry Harris' new book, 19: The Remarkable Story of United's League Championship Record, is available now.

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