Investment: Aston Villa shares fall as wages jump

ASTON VILLA yesterday paid the price for this season's success on the field as the City took fright at a 30 per cent jump in its wage bill, writes Andrew Garfield.

The club - currently joint leader of the premiership - saw its shares dive 12.5p to 680p, after the club declared first-half profits flat at pounds 2.2m despite a steep rise in gate receipts on the back of its strong performance on the pitch. Profits after trading were pounds 11.6m reflecting the surplus booked on the sale of the player Dwight Yorke.

Analysts estimate that the wage bill is running at around pounds 17m this season compared with pounds 12.5m in 1997/98.

"The pounds 2m extra they have made this half has gone straight into players' pockets," one analyst complained.

Mark Ansell, the finance director, said yesterday that it is inevitable that costs will rise as the club seeks to build a first class team.

"There is a lot of talk about a European super league. People may talk first about Manchester United and so on but in the next breath, it will be Aston Villa," he said. "We are playing a game which is longer than the next six months."

Paul Wedge at Collins Stewart, the stockbroker, which has gone negative on football stocks generally, said yesterday that this is a "big if", but one that would pay off if Villa succeeds.

"We don't see any profits growth in the next two years, unless they go into the champions league. But if they do that, they could be worth pounds 9m to pounds 10m."

The dividend is unchanged at 2.2p.

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