Bid rumours lift Man United

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The Independent Online
Private investors piled into Manchester United shares yesterday in anticipation of a bid for the football club, ignoring blanket denials from rumoured suitors and a statement from the company that it had received no approaches. The shares closed 61p higher at 513.5p.

Institutions were understood to have taken profits on the shares, which have soared from under 200p at the beginning of the year, using the surge of interest from small investors to lighten their holdings. Volumes exceeded half a million shares yesterday, unusually active trading for the stock.

The rapid rise in United's shares has partly reflected the potential profits expected to flow from a lucrative new television deal with BSkyB, but it has largely been fuelled by takeover speculation.

The rumour mill received a boost yesterday by a newspaper article quoting Martin Edwards, chief executive, as saying: "Any successful company is an attractive takeover prospect. People are going to look at it, so it could well be the subject of more takeover proposals."

The speculation took the market capitalisation of the club to over pounds 300m where it remained despite a statement pouring cold water on the rumours: "We have noted the recent media coverage suggesting that Manchester United has received an approach which may lead to an offer being made for the company. The board is not aware of any proposals."

United is understood to have rejected a takeover bid from publishing group VCI earlier this year which valued the club at pounds 300m. The company made no announcement about those talks at the time, claiming that they did not constitute a formal approach, despite the apparent financial backing of HSBC.

The most recent speculation has linked the brewer Whitbread and the television and leisure group Granada with the club, although both companies have denied any involvement.

A spokesman for Whitbread said: "The report is complete rubbish. We would love to buy the club but we have as many beer drinkers in Liverpool, Newcastle and Chelsea." Granada is known to be interested in developing a magazine television channel with the club, but it is thought to be too busy digesting its recent purchase of Forte to contemplate a move on Manchester United.