Tony Blair said the other day that he doesn't have a reverse gear. Just like an early Messerschmitt bubble car, in fact, although no one to my knowledge has pointed out this politico-automotive curiosity.
The observation also allows me to make a laboured joke about my portfolio definitely having a reverse gear. The 2002-03 portfolio, which had been making such excellent progress, a whole 5 per cent gain in capital value plus a 2 per cent return in dividends, has dropped back. It's now showing a mere 3 per cent gain, although it was very nearly in the red again earlier this week. Logica CMG is the star performer, up 60 per cent since I bought earlier this year, but much of the rest has shown a very sluggish performance, particularly Marks & Spencer, Reuters and Coca Cola.
The one thing that really depresses me is when I think I can spot a good share price, tell everyone I know to buy (they usually mock such effusions) and don't get around to doing anything about it myself, only to watch it soar. Some months ago I was watching the Manchester United share price slump to below 100p and advised one of my colleagues, an avid fan, that he should put his money where his faith is and buy them because they seemed so cheap - if he had the cash available, which he didn't. Neither did I, although I had, and have, some Man U shares that had been bought over the last couple of years, at an average of about 150p. They were purchased slightly as a financial and indeed an emotional hedge against the flickering fortunes of Leicester City, which has since gone bust and been restructured without my help. So when Man U beat Leicester 4-1 last week my grief was assuaged by pecuniary considerations. Now Man U shares have risen to just about 200p, which values the whole thing, Old Trafford, Fergie, Van Nistelrooy and all, for £500m. Not bad really, as it compares well with, say, Anglian Water Group (£700m), De La Rue, the printers, (£500m) and DFS (£400m). I mean, which would you rather own?
After all, there are very few internationally renowned British brands that can be had for the sort of small change a Russian billionaire oligarch might lose down the back of his sofa. You don't even have to have a particularly rosy view of Man U's long-term prospects to realise the role vanity plays in the acquisition of such a company. It is, needless to say, no ordinary plc. Now I notice yet another investor, Malcolm Glazer, has built up a stake of 7,144,550 shares, somewhat larger than my holding. Mr Glazer sounds like an interesting chap, being the owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers American football franchise. Now he's also the fifth-largest shareholder in Man U, alongside the likes of Rupert Murdoch and J P McManus and John Magnier, the Irish horseracing millionaires.
Of course it's not all rosy at Man U. Some of us shareholders who don't understand football properly are still a bit worried about the loss of David Beckham and Peter Kenyon, the former chief executive poached by Roman Abramovich to look after Chelsea. But the results last week looked healthy enough, with a 23 per cent rise in annual pre-tax profits to a record £39.7m, on turnover of £175m from better gate receipts and an increased share of television revenues. The £15.9m proceeds from Beckham's transfer to Real Madrid helped to raise Man U's cash balances to £28.6m, and the company paid a special dividend of 1.5p on top of the increased total basic dividend of 2.5p. Trebles all round, if you'll pardon the pun.
I couldn't possibly end the column without reminding readers about my tedious, debilitating, dispiriting battle to secure my dear old mum's pension credit. Having written to the Security of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, and not had the courtesy of a proper reply, we've had a letter from the Leicester Pensions Office telling us that a member of the team would shortly be in touch to sort things out. Needless to say they haven't. Any readers, above or below retirement age, who have found the same difficulty in claiming a rightful entitlement should get in touch.Reuse content