Odey cuts stake in ‘natural winner’ Sports Direct

Odey Asset Management has cut back its 5 per cent stake in Sports Direct International, three months after Crispin Odey defended its under-fire chief executive Mike Ashley and described him as a “natural winner”.

Market filings from Friday show Odey Asset Management sold almost 240,000 shares in the sports retailer, The Times reports.

In January, Odey defended Ashley against criticisms over poor labour and corporate governance practices from other fund managers. He increased his holding in the company to over 5 per cent as its share price suffered.

“From our point of view we always like to find entrepreneurs to back, and I am very happy to be buying anything on eight times earnings, especially when they have a proven track record like Sports Direct,” Odey told The Times in January.

But three months later his holding has fallen back below 5 per cent.

Last year, The Investors Forum, representing asset managers with a combined £14trn under management, launched its first ever public statement against a company stating it would be voting against a number of board appointments at the Sports Direct AGM.

In February, Standard Life Investors said in its annual corporate governance report that it had raised concerns at Sports Direct with senior executives and non-executives over a number of years “but to little effect”.

Ashley, who founded Sports Direct in 1982, controls 58.8 per cent of the company.