Wednesday, 2 February 2011

PIK repayment trail goes colder as United's ownership shifts to Delaware

Followers of the United finance story will know that unexpectedly on 22nd November last year, the Glazers found the £249.1m required to pay off the infamous PIKs.

In December, filings at Companies House showed that this money had been raised by issuing two new shares in United's UK parent company Red Football Shareholder Limited (2 new shares being 0.0002% of the issued share capital). RFS then bought two shares in its subsidiary Red Football Joint Venture (which owed the PIKs) for the same sum and RFJV used the money to repay the debt.

Today, with the filing at Companies House of Red Football Shareholders' "Annual Return", we learned a little bit more about that strange share issue. The Annual Return shows that 100% of RFS' shares (including the two new and very expensive ones) are now owned by a new company called Red Football LLC. Previously, all the shares had been owned by Red Football Limited Partnership, a Nevada company.

A quick search in the usual places shows that Red Football LLC is a new company in Delaware, the most secretive of all US states when it comes to corporations. The company, which through a string of four UK subsidiaries now owns 100% of Manchester United was formed on 4th November 2010, just under three weeks before the PIKs were repaid.

A 2009 report by the Tax Justice Network named Delaware, home to half of all US corporations, as the most secretive financial location in the world (beating strong competition from the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands etc). It is virtually impossible to get information on Delaware companies and it is almost as if the Glazers are trying to keep information about the PIK repayment secret. We don't know who the directors of Red Football LLC are, who its shareholders are or how it obtained the £249.1m.

This matters because there are really only two explanations for the repayment of the PIKs; either the Glazers have found some sort of equity to repay them (even though nobody can identify where that could have come from) or Red Football LLC has borrowed the money to repay the debt and the threat of the club's cash being used to service this new debt is still there. If it's the former then United are in a strong financial position despite the wasted £45m spent annually on bond interest. If it's the latter then the there is a high chance of the Glazers taking the £100m+ (and rising) of dividends to which they are "entitled" at some point in the future.

Naturally, we can't ask the Glazers anything about this as they won't talk to the fans and their employees in M16 don't appear to know. In my view that is not how the biggest football club in the world should be managed.