The Investment column: Man Utd on the ball

Manchester United's financial progress is as relentless as the club's performances on the pitch. Still top of the league and gunning for glory in the European Cup, the club turned in another impressive display with its first-half figures yesterday.

With profits up 42 per cent to pounds 15.7m before transfer fee income of pounds 3.7m, the business is performing with all the style of an Eric Cantona flick.

But there is nothing flash about the way the club is run. With average attendances up to 54,000 the club could sell the lot to season ticket holders.

But it retains 10,000 tickets for sale on match days to give "hope value" to its 105,000 club members.

It is these "occasional" visitors who spend their money in the club shop, buy a programme and dine out at the Red Cafe after a visit to the Manchester United museum.

Gate receipts, television money and sponsorship funds are all up strongly. And the appointment of a new deputy chief executive to further the brand overseas is encouraging. The club is already looking at merchandise opportunities in the Far East while at home it is talking to three parties about the possibility of a dedicated Manchester United pay-per-view channel.

Further out, the club may need to look at diversification as its cash pile - currently standing at pounds 22m - continues to grow. But for now there is plenty of room for growth with the core business. If there is a problem it is spiralling wage costs in the aftermath of the Bosman ruling.

But the shares - up a penny at 642p yesterday - have come off their peak in the last couple of months after a terrific run. With analysts forecasting profits of pounds 27.5m they trade on a forward rating of 20. Still worth holding.

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