Nike's takeover of Umbro has been thrown into doubt by Sports Direct chief executive Mike Ashley, after building a 29.9% blocking stake in the maker of England's national football team kit. The share raid, conducted yesterday through the Icelandic bank Kaupthing, nearly doubled the 15% stake Sports Direct had built up in the business to bring its holding to just shy of the 30% threshold at which a full takeover would be triggered.
Sports Direct declined to comment on its motivations yesterday, leaving analysts to guess at what Mr Ashley's next move would be, which might be that, by building a blocking stake, Mr Ashley could force Nike into paying a higher price. JJB Sports, Sports Direct's main rival and the UK's No 2 sports retailer, holds another 10% of Umbro, which it bought after the company revealed this month that it was in takeover talks.
The acquisition of Umbro would make Nike the global leader in football apparel, a sector in which 10 years ago it had a minute presence. For Umbro, the deal would bring the support of Nike's global marketing and distribution muscle, providing an antidote to its struggles as a niche player subsisting on the sale of replica football shirts.
If Mr Ashley does launch an offer, he would head off a possible toughening of supply terms for England shirts, but he would also anger the world's largest sports apparel maker. Ms Tipnis said: "Nike, Adidas, and other brands are not entirely happy with Sports Direct using their brands to attract footfall to then sell its own brands at higher margins." (source: Google News)
American aviation authorities have threatened to veto any increase of air traffic into the chronically congested John F. Kennedy airport throwing plans by British Airways to launch a new airline between Europe and New York into disarray.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is about to start talks with foreign airlines, including British Airways, to reduce congestion at JFK, the main New York airport. The FAA wants airlines to reduce voluntarily the number of takeoffs and landings at JFK or to move flights to less hectic times. British Airways is already planning to increase the number of services between Heathrow and JFK from 51 flights a week to 55 next year, and is also planning to launch a new airline that will offer direct flights between Europe and the East Coast of the US next year to take advantage of the open-skies agreement that will take effect next Easter. One British Airways executive has said “we have not specified the destination for the new airline, but New York is the obvious destination. There would be an impact on BA if restrictions were enforced, and we watch developments with interest. We would like this issue to be resolved as soon as possible. We have tickets to sell.”
It said that between 3pm and 7.59pm no more than 81 flights an hour would be permitted. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry body, on some days JFK is handling at least 100 flights an hour. An FAA spokesman told The Times: “We will get some kind of result on this by mid-December. If carriers aren’t shaping up, we will impose restrictions. The concern is the level of traffic in and out of JFK. We do not want a repeat of this summer.”
IATA said that “because the US has failed to grow its infrastructure, it is trying to penalise airlines and passengers. But, quite clearly, the status quo is not working.” (source: Timesonline)
The battle for supremacy between the UK's top two fitness chains, Fitness First and Virgin Active, are set for Spain. Both companies are believed to be sizing up offers for Holmes Place gyms in Spain and Portugal, where they are being auctioned for up to 200 million euro (£140 million).
A year ago Virgin Active bought Holmes Place in the UK to take the No 2 position, behind Fitness First. Holmes Place has been put up for sale by its owners – the Spanish private equity firms Mercapital and N+1, and Portuguese group Explorer, which have hired Atlas Capital, a Madrid advisory boutique that is part-owned by Close Brothers.
Holmes Place's Iberian business was sold in 2005 by Permira and Bridgepoint after the private equity firms took over the entire business. After selling it to Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Active group for £650 million last year the buyout firms retained minority stakes in the group. It is understood that Holmes Place's owners hired Atlas after receiving several unsolicited bids. They are not desperate to sell and will only do so if they can achieve the hoped for price, sources said. The company operates a network of 22 gyms in Spain and Portugal.
Fitness First has 25 gyms in Spain, and is looking to expand in the country. Virgin Active is also looking outside the UK. Sir Richard's fitness empire is about to launch it latest venture in Australia, where it has unveiled plans to open several locations over the next year. He is also looking to expand his Virgin Money business through a bid for struggling mortgage lender Northern Rock. (source: Independent)