The Week That Was: New boy Sports Direct struggles to find its form

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The Independent Online

The public markets aren't for everyone. Sports Direct, the sports retailer that floated less than two months ago, last week issued a profit warning, the ates in a series of bad tidings that have typified its short existence as a publicly traded entity. Since its float, the group, under its chief executive Mike Ashley, has fired its public relations and investor relations firms, while access to its executives for analysts and investors has been sparse. On the latest news, the company saw its shares drop as much as 10 per cent before recovering to close the week down 4.1 per cent.

Despite unveiling a major US acquisition, AstraZeneca failed to impress. The pharmaceuticals giant paid $16bn last week for MedImmune, a biotechnology company that put itself up for auction. The deal builds on Astra's purchase last year of Cambridge Antibody Technology, another biotechnology group. It hopes that together the companies will form the basis of a new, high-margin biologics and vaccines business to offset the loss of revenue as patents expire on older drugs. Yet many analysts saw the price as too high. The companies' shares ended the week down 7 per cent.

Three Delta, the Qatari-owned property fund managed by Paul Taylor, former right-hand man to the Tchenguiz brothers, has bought a 17.1 per cent stake in the supermarket giant J Sainsbury. His holding, in conjunction with the stake of more than 5 per cent built up in the company by Robert Tchenguiz, led observers to assume that the two will push the Sainsbury's board hard to give some money back to investors. That could be achieved by breaking Sainsbury's into two parts, a property company and an operating company.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Stefano Pessina, the deputy chairman of Boots, meanwhile, finally saw off Guy Hands, the head of rival private equity firm Terra Firma, with an £11.1bn bid for the chemist. Mr Hands' group threw in the towel on Tuesday and Boots' shares slid to end the week at 1,120p, below KKR's offer price of 1,139p per share.

Royal Bank of Scotland upped the ante in its pursuit of ABN Amro when it tabled a €72bn (£49bn) bid - roughly €8bn more than Barclays has offered. Late on Friday, RBS was granted access to the target's books, and it could make a firm offer as soon as this week.

And all was not well abroad. The clouds over Siemens continued to darken. Klaus Kleinfeld, the chief executive of the German engineering giant, said he would leave at the end of his contract. It was unwelcome news for a group embroiled in a growing corruption scandal that also saw its chairman, Heinrich von Pierer, leave last week.

Shares in Spanish property companies, one of the main engines of growth for one of the Eurozone's best performers of the past decade, took an absolute drubbing. While they recovered slightly by the end of the week, the panic sell-off of shares in companies like Astroc, Fadesa and Metrovacesa sparked fears that the property bubble could burst and set off a chain reaction across the UK and Europe.

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