Charles Pretzlik: Sports Direct falls at the outset

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If it weren’t for the £929m he got from selling 43 per cent of Sports Direct. it might be a case of “poor Mike Ashley”. Having kept himself to himself for years he reluctantly decided to float his company only to choose a day when the market fell out of bed. The result is that Sports Direct shares, having been priced near to the top of the range at 300p, immediately fell and now stand at around 285p. But is it all the market’s fault? You have to wonder about the advice Ashley has been getting, and not just in going for a punchy valuation. First, journalists’ access to him and financial details about his company was restricted in such a clumsy way as to make the man himself much more the story than he would probably have liked, or deserved. Then, yesterday, the company, for reasons that remain unclear, delayed its meeting with independent analysts until after this morning’s pricing. Sure, the pricing went well. But, with Ashley still owning 57 per cent of Sports Direct, he and his company will need support long after today. His advisers have done him few favours.

On the subject of successful, secretive entrepreneurs, we have the first results today from Ashmore, the emerging markets fund manager floated in October and founded by Mark Coombs, who turns out to be even more camera-shy than Mike Ashley. The figures are good and the shares have had a great run since floating at 170p. They are now above 270p, although Asian market jitters knocked more than 5 per cent off them today.

Also suffering from the emerging market fall-out is Standard Chartered. Its shares are off despite its results looking more or less in line, with the bank reporting a near 20 per cent jump in annual pre-tax profits. Strong top-line growth but costs up and higher loan impairment in Taiwan. It looks like the management is trying to emphasise organic growth again, having made a string of acquisitions. We should know more later.

St James’s Place is treating its shareholders (the largest of which is HBOS with 60 per cent) to a £30m special dividend. This is after turning in an extremely strong set of figures (no news about a new CEO, though). Cairn Energy, the UK-listed oil group, is also returning cash to shareholders. It is handing back £481m from the recent spin-off of its Indian business.

GKN lifted full-year profits 8 per cent despite flat sales, sending its shares nearly 10 per cent higher in a falling market. The engineering group said its restructuring programme was in its final phase.

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