Man United plans Singapore share float

LONDON: Manchester United's American owners are planning to dilute their stake in the Premier League champions with a partial stock market flotation in Singapore, sources familiar with the plans said Tuesday.

The Glazer family has chosen the Singapore stock exchange for an initial public offering because Asia is now central to United's growth away from the football pitch, the sources told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the English club's financial plans publicly.

When asked for a response, United Chief executive David Gill declined to comment.

Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, which has been linked with the listing, said it had been told not to comment on the matter.

Manchester United has been valued at $1.9 billion by Forbes magazine, which has ranked it as football's most valuable team for the last seven years.

The application for a listing could take until the end of the year to be approved by the Singapore Exchange, the people familiar with the situation said.

The IPO could raise $1 billion by making between 25 and 30 percent of United available, the Financial Times reported online.

While the Florida-based Glazer family plans to remain in control of United, a partial flotation would reduce the club's debt, which exceeds 500 million pounds ($817 million).

The club was bought by the Glazers for 790 million pounds ($1.4 billion) million pounds in 2005 when they de-listed the club from the London Stock Exchange.

"Obviously the leverage has been bothering the Glazers so they want to use whatever cash they get in to get a return for themselves on capital, to reduce leverage and to give Manchester United cash to go out and buy players," said Stephen Schechter, chairman of London-based investment bank Schechter Co., which has helped English clubs raise money.

Schechter believes the Glazers have chosen the Singapore Exchange because of the "sizzle factor" associated with United in Asia where more than half of the club's estimated 333 million fans are based.

"They will pay a higher price to say they own a piece of Manchester United," Schechter said in a telephone interview.

There is also less disclosure of information required in Singapore compared with London.

"Clearly the U.K. market would be receptive to Manchester United, but the listing requirements would require substantive disclosure, as would New York," Schechter said.

Despite the Glazers consistently maintaining that the club is not for sale, United director Michael Edelson appeared to contradict them in December when he told the AP: "It is inevitable that at some time they will sell."

The Glazers, who also own the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have been unpopular with sections of the United fan base due to the extent of the club's debt, which did not exist before the leveraged buyout.

Protests mounted during throughout 2010 when the club's financial predicament was revealed in a bond prospectus sent to investors. That seven-year bond issue raised 504 million pounds to replace long-term financing and reduce debts to hedge funds.

But the protests dissipated last season as the team went on to win a record 19th English title, with the green and gold scarves adopted by disaffected fans largely disappearing from matches.

The Glazers have in the past rebuffed a 1.5 billion-pound offer from an unnamed Qatari group. - AP

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