?A company who invested in Manchester United and then sold their stake to Malcolm Glazer, opening the door for the American to finally take over the club, have in the last six months bought Arsenal shares raising fears among some shareholders, who are also fans, that the London club could go the way of United.
?It is believed that companies have been attracted to Arsenal because they believe they can make a substantial profit in anticipation of a takeover. Since September 2004 Arsenal shares on the OFEX market have risen dramatically from £1,500 a share to £4,600 now.
?The Arsenal Supporters Trust, who speak for the small shareholders, alerted by the rise, have investigated and found that in the past six months several professional investment firms have been buying Arsenal shares, thereby pushing up the price.
?In a letter to small shareholders, which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, the trust say: ‘One of these shareholders was a significant shareholder in Manchester United prior to the bid by the Glazers. An analysis of this investor shows a track record for buying shares in companies that at a later date have received takeover approaches, at which point they make significant profits.’
?The letter does not say who these investors are but I can exclusively reveal that they are Lansdowne Partners Limited. In October 2003 they sold part of their stake in United to Glazer – the first purchase of United by the American business tycoon and his family.
?Unlike Manchester United, the Arsenal board exercise complete control and no takeover would be possible without their consent. When I spoke to Peter Hill-Wood, the Arsenal chairman, he said he had no fears of a takeover and the directors had no plans to sell. The directors, along with ITV, own 71 per cent of the club.
?The supporters’ trust believe this makes the 15 per cent of the club owned by small shareholders crucial. Some 1,600 shareholders own 10 or fewer shares and a further 170 shareholders own between 11 and 100 shares.
?In their letter, the trust say: ‘We will never be in a position to prevent an individual gaining 51 per cent or 75 per cent control of Arsenal. What we as small shareholders can do is prevent any one person eventually controlling 95 per cent or more of the club as Glazer has been able to achieve at Manchester United.
?’This 95 per cent ownership level is important because when this point is reached the shares can be de-listed, as has happened at Manchester United. The financial affairs of the club will no longer be in the public domain and the remaining shareholders are in a completely subordinated position.’
?Lansdowne’s Stuart Roden refused a request by the trust to meet them at the Arsenal annual general meeting.?
Are We Next For The Yanks?