Monday 30 June 2014 1:32 am

Sports Direct fears third bonus defeat

SPORTS Direct’s third attempt to reward its billionaire founder Mike Ashley looks set to fail this week after three major shareholder bodies publicly urged investors to vote against the latest bonus scheme. The sports retail giant could decide to call off Wednesday’s shareholder meeting if the proxy votes – due in today – indicate that it has not received enough support. The Association of British Insurers (ABI), whose members control a fifth of the FTSE 100, has already called on investors to reject the scheme, which would award Ashley and “all eligible” employees, around £200m of shares. “We’ve outlined significant concerns to our members,” an ABI spokesperson told City A.M. “The overall package is not clear, transparent or accountable to shareholders.” It has also criticised the lack of disclosure over how many of the 25m shares would be allotted to Ashley. The ABI has been leading talks for investors representing around a fifth of the group’s 38 per cent free-float. The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) has also urged that the scheme to be withdrawn, saying that investors had not been consulted fully on the latest proposal, despite the board committing to doing so at a meeting with shareholders in May. “Our members are concerned about the significant lack of detail being provided about the arrangements of this scheme, and the absence of substantive consultation with shareholders is particularly frustrating,” the NAPF’s Will Pomroy, said. The institutional investor group Pirc has also opposed the scheme. Sports Direct’s third attempt at paying its deputy chairman comes after a shareholder rebellion forced the company to scrap plans for a bonus scheme worth £73m in April. A similar plan was also rejected in 2012. Sports Direct declined to comment last night. The group said earlier this month that it has listened to shareholders and the scheme was dependent on tougher earnings targets over a longer timeframe. Under the proposal, earnings would need to more than double by the end of the period in 2019 to £750m compared to this year’s earnings, which are expected to be around £330m. Ashley, who owns a 62 per cent stake in Sports Direct, will not be voting on the resolution. He receives no salary or other bonus, despite having founded the retailer and played a key part in its growth. Unlike previous plans, the 2015 scheme ties Ashley to payouts for Sports Direct’s 3,000 staff, who will also miss out on the 25m share pot if shareholders do not back the scheme. Sports Direct’s second largest shareholder Odey Asset Management, which owns around seven per cent, has previously expressed his support of a bonus for Ashley.