Takeover talk boosts Man Utd shares

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The Independent Online

Shares in Manchester United leaped today after fresh takeover speculation was kicked off by the news that Irish racehorse owners JP McManus and John Magnier now own almost a quarter of the club.

The duo are among several potential predators circling the Old Trafford club through their Cubic Expression Company which has built a 23.15% stake, or just over 60.1 million shares.

Shares in Manchester United climbed more than 4%, or 10p, to 245p.

The revelation emerged from a statement to the London Stock Exchange which followed the news that satellite broadcaster BSkyB had sold its 9.9% stake, valued at around £62 million.

City analysts have predicted the move paves the way for a full takeover bid for one of the highest profile football clubs in the world.

Henk Potts, at Barclays Private Clients, said: "The market is pretty optimistic that a bid will come through. Normally when someone dumps 10% of a company into the market you would expect shares to slump."

Analysts believe there are now three likely scenarios behind the Cubic Expression stakebuilding.

The first is that Mr McManus and Mr Magnier think Manchester United offers a good underlying investment opportunity.

But some observers reject this, arguing the club does not provide a decent dividend or a clear path to growth for their money.

The second possible reason is that the Irish pair are building their stake in an effort to block other parties from trying to take over the club, in particular American football entrepreneur Malcolm Glazer.

A third option is that Mr McManus and Mr Magnier are buying shares in preparation for their own takeover approach.

Mr Potts said: "It makes no sense for them to have such a large holding in a company like Manchester United and not be in overall control of the club."

United's share price has rocketed in the last month, from just under 180p three weeks ago to their current level of 245p.

United shares hovered around the 160p mark through July and early August until steadily rising amid large increases in profits and news of Sir Alex Ferguson's intention to sign a new contract.