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We in the FT newsroom think Mike Ashley deserves an OBE for services to news editing – he just keeps providing us with great stories, and to do so on a Friday, normally a quiet news day, is really very helpful.
Today we learned that he has been trying to muscle Blacks Leisure, where his Sports Direct group has 29 per cent, into dropping the review of its ownership of the Freespirit chain. He is demanding an EGM to clear out the board and put in his own people. We don’t know this for sure but you have to assume he wants to prevent Blacks Leisure from selling Freespirit before he is free to bid for Blacks again in August. I know Mike Ashley isn’t exactly conventional by City standards but you have to admire him for his lack of artifice and the commitment he shows to his interests. Ignore some of the mutterings today about how Ashley might have gone about things here – apparently his lawyers have written some jolly stiff letters to Blacks – and it is hard to find fault with someone sitting on a large stake in a horror stock trying to shake things up a bit. Blacks’ shareholders are almost as pleased with the story as we are today: the shares are up more than 7 per cent.
There are, as it happens, a few other good stories around today. News that the OFT is to launch an investigation into the housebuilding industry, is another gift for a Saturday paper. The year-long investigation will look at issues affecting the supply of new houses and customer satisfaction levels with the housebuilding industry. Housebuilding stocks, already knocked by fears of rising interest rates, are unmoved today.
BP’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP, is about to learn how much of the Kovytka gas field in Siberia it will have to give up to Gazprom. The real losers here, though, are likely to be BP’s Russian partners. More later.
The other news we’re standing by for is the LSE’s takeover of Borsa Italiana. The Borsa’s board is meeting today to discuss the LSE’s offer. However, NYSE-Euronext could still spoil things for the LSE’s Clara Furse. And, given that the last time she bid for a business (Liffe) she lost out bitterly to Euronext’s Jean-François Théodore, this could get personal.
We also have a couple of scoops and a meaty interview, but you’ll have to wait till tomorrow for those.
Rumour of the day: Scottish & Newcastle shares are a bit weak this morning. Carlsberg is losing its chief executive to Moller-Maersk and the not unreasonable assumption is that this will diminish the chances of Carlsberg bidding for S&N this year.