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Manchester United shareholder sold 3mhares aftpriceoflowing

The market excitement caused by the announcement thatManchester Unitedare for sale has enabled one group of American investors to make a tidy profit on their shares but, for once, they have nothing to do with the clubs owners, the Glazer family.

According to a filing published by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, Ariel Investments sold nearly three million Manchester United shares in the last quarter of 2022.

The filing does not reveal the price or exact timing of these sales but shares in the New York Stock Exchange-listed club leapt in value after the Glazers announced they were commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company.

That was on November 22, when the clubs share price was around $13 (10.74). By the close of trading that day, the price for each share was nearly $15 and it passed $20 the following day. Manchester Uniteds shares closed 2022 at $23 (19.00), more than double what they were worth last summer when they reached a low of $10.41.

The news that the Glazers were actively seeking offers for the club they had so controversially bought in 2005 also hugely increased the number of shares being traded on a daily basis.

Just over a quarter of a million Manchester United shares changed hands on November 21, another humdrum day for had become a boring stock. But the possibility that the Glazers 17-year reign at Old Trafford might be coming to an end saw that jump to six million shares traded on November 22 and a remarkable 35 million on November 25, the day after the market was closed for Thanksgiving.

It is now clear that a large number of those shares were once held by Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based investment company that was Manchester Uniteds largest single shareholder until this sell-off. That honour returns to London-based firm Lindsell Train.

By selling just over a quarter of the more than 11 million Manchester United shares it held at the end of September, Ariel has made a tidy profit on the $100m it spent on United shares in 2021, when the share price was in the $15-16 range.

In fact, Ariels position as Uniteds largest single institutional investor is bookended byCristiano Ronaldos 2021 return to the club another event that boosted the clubs share price and the Portuguese stars contract being terminated by United on the same day as the club was effectively put up for sale.

This, however, does not mean Ariels co-chief executives John Rogers and Mellody Hobson are die-hard Ronaldo fans voting with their feet, or that they know something the rest of us do not about Uniteds potential sale. It is far more likely they just saw the share prices current good health as an opportunity to take some easy profits.

Neither Ariel nor Manchester United has responded to a request for comment.

In regards to the process the Glazers started in November, there is nothing significant to report. The Glazers appointed Raine, a merchant bank headquartered in New York, to oversee the search. Raine is understood to have been given the job following its success in running a competitive auction forChelsealast year.

The United process, however, was always going to be a much slower burn than that drama, as Chelsea had to be sold quickly after their former owner Roman Abramovich was placed on the British and European sanctioned individuals lists following Russias invasion of Ukraine.

British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe is the only person or group to publicly declare an interest in buying Manchester United in recent months, although he made it clear he does not agree with the Glazers view that Englands most successful club is worth significantly more than double the 2.5 billion the Todd Boehly-led consortium paid for Chelsea.

Apart from Ratcliffe, there has been some speculation about bids from the Middle East. For example, earlier this week it emerged that Qatar Sports Investments, the sovereign wealth fund which owns Paris Saint-Germain, is looking for a minority stake in aPremier Leagueclub. QSI has already had some preliminary conversations withTottenham Hotspurbut is not understood to have spoken to Raine or Manchester United yet.

If not them, or someone like them, most industry observers believe the only likely buyers are another wealthy American family, like the Glazers, or an American private-equity syndicate, like Boehlys group at Chelsea.

But withEverton,Liverpooland, seemingly, Spurs now also on the market not to mention dozens of clubs across Europe and the global economy in choppy waters, it is entirely possible the Glazers do not find anyone who agrees with their valuation of United.

And it is the six children of Malcolm Glazer, the man who bought United in 2005 for 790 million, who control the club via class B shares which only they own. These golden tickets carry 10 times the voting rights of the class A shares the likes of Ariel, Lindsell Train and all the other shareholders own.

The familys majority stake in United has also meant they have taken the lions share of the 155m in dividend payments the club has made since 2015, although the Glazers announced last month that they were suspending them for the time being.

That could, of course, be another factor in Ariels decision to downsize their stake in the club, although the fact that it still owns eight million United shares suggests it is still on board with Erik ten Haags attempt to restore United to their perch and more general idea that premium sports franchises are great long-term investments.

At the time of writing, Manchester Uniteds share price is a shade under $23 (19), which gives the company a market capitalisation the combined value of all its shares of $3.7bn (3bn) and an enterprise value equity plus debt of $4.6bn (3.8bn).

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Based in North West England, Matt Slater is a senior football news reporter for The Athletic UK. Before that, he spent 16 years with the BBC and then three years as chief sports reporter for the UK/Irelands main news agency, PA.Follow Matt on Twitter@mjshrimper