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Sports Direct shareholders criticised for bonus U-turn

SPORTS Direct International has criticised its large shareholders for failing to back a bonus scheme which could have handed Mike Ashley £70 million in shares.

Mr Ashley, who owns Newcastle United football club and has a stake in Rangers, does not take any salary from the business but has almost 58% of its shares.

The proposed bonus would have seen him handed around eight million more shares if performance targets were met this year and in 2015.

The retailer has failed to gain shareholder approval on a number of special remuneration schemes for its founder in recent years.

Chief executive Dave Forsey said some shareholders had backtracked after initially supporting the latest proposal, adding: "The board was extremely disappointed to withdraw the resolution regarding a proposed share scheme award to Mike Ashley.

"The most disappointing aspect was where large shareholders gave their support only to then vote differently. This outcome is likely to lead to further uncertainty in the future."

Mr Forsey did not name any of the shareholders who had changed their minds.

After Mr Ashley, who was not able to vote on his own bonus, Odey Asset Management is the largest shareholder, with a 7.31%.

Schroder has 4.71% while Legal & General Investment Management, Aviva and Standard Life Investments all have stakes of less than 1.4%.

Mr Forsey was speaking as Sports Direct unveiled another strong trading period.

Group sales for the nine weeks to March 30 grew 10.3% to £360m with gross profit rising 11.5% to £147m.

Its sports stores were 11% ahead and pulled in £292.3m of revenue and gross profit up almost 15% to more than £120m.

Trading in the premium lifestyle arm, which includes the likes of USC and Cruise, nudged upwards by just 0.7% to £27.1m with gross profit actually dipping 4.1% to £9.9m. The brands division grew revenue almost 13% to £39.6m although profit was steady at £16.7m.

Mr Forsey said the company was very confident of hitting a full year target of £310m of earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation.

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