Well now, here’s a thing. I wait all summer for Alisher Usmanov to admit to buying another Arsenal share, and he doesn’t (so far). But out of the blue Stan Kroenke decides to buy two shares. Why? You may well ask.
I noticed yesterday that the webpage maintained by Arsenal that lists ‘major shareholdings’ in Arsenal Holdings PLC had changed. The page gets updated every couple of weeks, as clubs are obliged by Premier League rules to say who their major shareholders are. The PL rules are ambiguous about how often this needs to occur, and whether clubs must say immediately if something changes, but Arsenal are in the habit of at least updating the ‘as at’ date every fortnight even if no shares have been bought or sold by the two major shareholders.
Yesterday though, it was not just the date. KSE’s share total had gone up by two shares, from 41,581 to 41,583. The percentage of 66.83 was unchanged, as two shares was not enough to disturb it.
This is odd, I thought to myself. Stan is a Director, and is therefore obliged to make a stock market announcement ‘without delay’ any time he buys or sells a share. I checked the ICAP website, where Arsenal shares are listed: no announcement. I tweeted about it, to mild interest, but had no information as to when the transaction took place.
You may recall a previous blog of mine (who am I kidding?), last time KSE’s share total moved, also by two shares in an upward direction, in March 2012. In that case it turned out that it wasn’t caused by a new purchase, but by some ‘lost paperwork’ from Stan’s takeover of Arsenal in May 2011. Well if this was a similar story, then the paperwork would have been lost for over two years! I was of the opinion that someone had probably made a mistake, and I fully expected to check the Arsenal webpage this morning and find the KSE total back where it had been.
I checked this morning and it was still the same: 41,583. So I sent a message to Mark Gonnella at Arsenal, asking politely if there had been an error somewhere, as I’d have expected an announcement if Stan really was buying shares – you know, following the rules and all that.
Then this afternoon, what do you know, an announcement is made. The first I knew was when a journo’s tweet was retweeted onto my timeline, noting the purchase but with the wrong percentage total for KSE. Turned out on checking the ICAP site that they’d put the wrong total at first and of course the journo knew no better and didn’t check. A second announcement correcting the error followed. Arsenal simultaneously sent an email to all shareholders to advise.
But here’s the thing: this purchase of two shares happened on 11 July! That’s over four weeks ago. Hardly announcing ‘without delay’. I phoned ICAP to ask why it took so long. By the time I phoned everyone who knew anything had gone to the pub. They took my number and said they’d call back Monday. I look forward to it.Not that ICAP are probably at fault – Arsenal have to tell them what’s going on, and clearly didn’t.
What are the consequences of this? Well given it’s only two shares out of 62,217, it’s not affecting the price, so any sanction from the PL or any other body is going to be a tiny tap on the wrist for Stan, he won’t give a monkey’s. The PL aren’t going to bar him from ownership.
More interesting is the question of why he has bought two shares. I can’t think of any good logical reason.
To prevent shares getting into the hands of Usmanov? Far too late for that. If he was going to try that he’d have done it many many months ago.
To keep the price high for whatever nefarious plans he’s got? Well he may have nefarious plans, but two shares will have zero effect on the price, especially as he paid £15,500 each for them, which is less that some have recently gone for anyway. His nefarious plans – if they exist – will be largely on hold anyway, as without a 75 per cent stake he can’t easily find a way of restructuring Arsenal to his financial advantage.
To increase his shareholding generally? No point – he’s got a majority, and unless he buys from Usmanov he can’t get to 75 per cent.
To squeeze out Fanshare? I can’t believe he’d want to do that. He’s not an active supporter of Fanshare, despite assurances at the time of the takeover, but to start buying odd shares now in an attempt to cause it to fail? It would end up in a lot of bad publicity, for a start. Not that he cares too much about that, you might well point out, as he sits in his ranch in Colorado.
So I don’t know. I don’t know why he’s bought two shares after buying none for two years, and I don’t know why it’s taken a month to tell us. By the way, if he got an associate to buy shares for him at any time, as a Director I believe he should also announce that – so unless he’s been flouting every rule in the book, this is his first genuine share purchase for two years.
It’s entirely possible that Stan’s minions in KSE didn’t bother telling anyone at Arsenal that this purchase had happened – the trade was off market, so invisible until the share register has to be updated, which only has to be in a reasonable time.
Still, strange that it was only after I noticed and tweeted it, and then at least one other journo got hold of it and questioned the club (no idea if he spotted it independently, but look for a story in a national UK paper tomorrow) that an announcement was made. Coincidence? Maybe. Stan hiding something? Maybe.
I do know one thing – well two, actually. One: Arsenal’s ownership does matter, because it affects everything that happens on the pitch. Two: if Stan communicated with fans (again as he promised to do) then we wouldn’t need to sit around guessing his motives.
We’ve gone from custodianship to effectively single owner silence in what seems a very short time. How sad for all of us, and maybe even sadder for our children.