Sports Direct ups Ashley payout plan

Mike Ashley, billionaire founder of Sports Direct, could net a one-off shares bonus worth about 24 million pounds at current prices after Britain's biggest sporting goods retailer raised a proposed payout.


Photo: Sports Direct


Sports Direct said on Wednesday it would ask shareholders at its annual meeting in September to back the grant of 8 million shares to Ashley, up from the 6 million shares proposed in December.

Ashley holds 71 percent of the company's equity and is executive deputy chairman. He does not take a salary and generates significant free advertising for the company through his ownership of high-flying English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United.

Ashley won't be allowed to vote at the AGM.

A spokesman for Sports Direct said the increase in the proposed payout reflects the imposition of tougher performance criteria, which have to be met for the shares to vest in 2018.

The firm must generate underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 270 million pounds, 290 million pounds and 340 million pounds in the 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 years respectively, and have a net debt/EBITDA ratio of 1.5 times or less in 2015.

"These targets are intended to ensure that the group hits its maximum EBITDA every year, as an extra 8 million shares mean little difference to him (Ashley) personally," said Panmure Gordon analyst Philip Dorgan.

News of the proposed payout came as Sports Direct posted a 13.2 percent rise in fourth-quarter sales and said it was eyeing a boost to trade from this summer's landmark events, sending its shares up 2 percent.

"We remain positive about the group's outlook and are excited about the summer ahead with the Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012 and the London Olympics," said Chief Executive Dave Forsey.

Total sales were 267.6 million pounds in the nine weeks to March 25, up from 236.4 million pounds in the same period last year. That compared with a third-quarter rise of 9.1 percent.

Sports Direct, which owns Sports World and Lillywhites stores as well as brands including Slazenger and Dunlop, said gross profit increased 13.5 percent to 99.8 million pounds.

The firm said in February it would reach its earnings target of 225 million pounds for the year to April 29.

With consumers' disposable incomes being squeezed by rising prices, muted wages growth and government austerity measures many British retailers are still struggling.

Sports Direct has, however, coped well, benefiting from its value offer, a growing internet presence, a highly motivated staff due to a lucrative bonus scheme, European expansion and the woes of UK rival JJB Sports.

Shares in Sports Direct, which have increased 42 percent over the last year, were up 6 pence at 291 pence at 0842 GMT, valuing the business at 1.7 billion pounds.

Ashley floated the firm at 300 pence in 2007 but the shares have never broken through the original float price.

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