The Private Investor: As a foreign investor eyes Man United, I think I see a chance to score with shares

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The Independent Online

Another week, another soccer takeover. Who ever said you couldn't make money out of football? OK, I may have seen my entire investment in Leicester City go west, but that was an act of patriotism, however misplaced you may judge it. After Chelsea was taken over by the Russian billionaire Ramon Abramovitch, Leeds United may have secured a foreign sugar daddy in the form of a Bahreini sheikh.

My investment interest is in Manchester United, and there have been yet more intriguing developments here this week. Whether you actually manage to turn a profit or not, footie shares are "interesting" things to own, the coverage of them far exceeding their economic importance.

In the case of Manchester United, the week kicked off with the news that the American businessman Malcolm Glazer had increased his shareholding to 14.3 per cent, worth £97m. So, a bit bigger than my holding, then. Anyway, Mr Glazer owns the NFL American football team Tampa Bay Buccaneers and probably knows what he's doing. The Buccaneers have been a spectacular financial and sporting success. They won the Super Bowl last January, eight years after he bought it for $192m (£111m), a record for an NFL team. The franchise is now thought to be worth $800m.

That puts Mr Glazer in a different category to a Russian oil billionaire or a Middle Eastern potentate, in that he at least has a passing acquaintance with the great sport-entertainment-business complex. Slightly fancifully, one wonders what Mr Glazer might be able to do with the Manchester United brand in the US, although attempts to remove soccer's girlie image there have so far failed dismally.

The question is whether Mr Glazer will want to share whatever money he might make out of Manchester United with some of his fellow shareholders, including many devoted fans. I note, for example, that the insurer Legal & General has taken its stake in the club to just below 3 per cent.

No one appears any the wiser about Mr Glazer's plans. We do know his main business vehicle is First Allied Corp, based in Rochester, New York, which specialises in developing shopping malls across the US. First Allied controls the Buccaneers and a stake in Zapata Corp, which, in turn, controls Omega Protein Corp, a producer of fish oil. Which may come in handy. I would be surprised if Manchester United shares didn't have some more momentum in them, so I shall hang on for the ride.

Whatever excitements may adorn a portfolio, its focus has to be high-quality stocks and, as it happens, it has been a good week for some of my core holdings. Tesco's position as UK market leader is reassuring and worrying at the same time. Reassuring because its consistent performance even in the face of spirited challenges from Asda and Safeway is impressive; worrying because no one can stay a winner for ever, can they? Ask Man Utd, I suppose, sitting third in the Premiership.

I also notice that Asda's bags and stuff are beginning to sport the alien name of its owner, Wal-Mart of America. Lots of companies are routinely referred to as "giants" which really aren't that big in global terms, but Wal-Mart really is big. When it took over Asda four years ago there was a lot of talk about it tearing the heart out of the British retail industry. Although that has not to come to pass, it surely has the potential to do so.

Having purchased some of their excellent plain, white business shirts for the modest sum of £3.50 each, I wince at Wal-Mart's destructive capacity. So now might be a good moment to hedge a holding in Tesco with some shares in Wal-Mart itself, not least because of the present low level of the dollar, down to more than $1.70 to the pound. As I mentioned last week an ultra low-cost dealing service such as that provided by Ample, now a Bank of Scotland/Halifax subsidiary, makes transatlantic equity purchase a simple and inexpensive affair. Even a few years ago such a move would have been impossible for any but the very wealthy. You see, it isn't only the likes of Mr Glazer who can indulge in transatlantic investment in this day and age.


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