Ashley forces Blacks to put on ice £20m fundraising

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Mike Ashley, the owner of Newcastle United and founder of Sports Direct, has forced Blacks Leisure, the outdoor retail specialist, to postpone a vote on a £20m fundraising to strengthen its store estate.

Blacks Leisure said it had "adjourned for an indefinite period" the vote on the cash call scheduled for yesterday after Sports Direct's subsidiary SWI seized back control of the 28.5 per cent stake in the owner of the Blacks and Millets chains on Monday. Blacks said the postponement was to give it more time to "seek agreement from Sports Direct to vote in favour of the shareholder resolution" for the placing and open offer.

On Monday, Sports Direct had said it intended to vote against Black's £20.3m fundraising, but said the decision "remains subject to review and final determination by the board".

The aggressive move comes at a delicate time for Blacks, which was rescued by a company voluntary arrangement last November that enabled it to ditch 87 loss-making stores.

Sports Direct declined to comment yesterday on why it blocked the £20.3m fundraising. Market sources suggested that the move may be designed to avoid a dilution in its shareholding or to lower Blacks' price tag ahead of a potential takeover bid.

It is understood that Sports Direct and Lion Capital, the private equity firm, made indicative takeover approaches for Blacks Leisure in February last year.

Sports Direct had been in a dispute with Ernst & Young – the administrator to Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander, the UK arm of the Icelandic bank – over ownership of the 28.5 per cent shareholding in Blacks since last year. But E&Y sold back the stake to SWI on Monday. Blacks plans to use the £20.3m to open 29 new Blacks and Millets stores, refurbish as many as 130 existing shops and cancel its higher-interest seasonal peak bank facility of £7.5m.

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