Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Down in the bunker with SD's Mike Ashley

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The Independent Online

The publicity-shy Mike "stuff the shareholders" Ashley was hosting his own conference call yesterday, so things must be bad. Certainly the results were extremely bad.

Little over a year after persuading the City to cough up £1bn for what subsequently proved one of the most overpriced share issues since the dotcom bubble, Mr Ashley, who used some of the loot to buy Newcastle United, is breezily telling Sports Direct shareholders that he's had the toughest year in the company's history. Nor does he think things will get better any time soon. For the current year, he's predicting no upturn.

Still, at least everyone else in retailing has now joined him down in what he calls "the bunker". Mr Ashley has been there from the moment he floated in February last year. Almost immediately, the City realised it had been sold a pup, and, with fears over corporate governance and performance mounting, the shares went into freefall. Now virtually everyone else in the retail sector is in freefall too, which makes Mr Ashley feel a lot happier. Misery loves company.

I guess that there must be a decent company somewhere in there trying to get out, though it looks like a jumble sale to me. But with £360m of net debt, it's not yet such a bargain as to tempt Mr Ashley into buying it back. There are no current plans to take the company private, he says. Perhaps he's feeling the pinch after the £100m he is rumoured to have lost taking a punt on HBOS shares. So how's the search for a new chairman going? Slowly, he says. Well there's a surprise.