What Moves Manchester United's Stock?

Manchester United is doing just fine, thanks. That was the message to investors during the English soccer club’s earnings call with analysts last week. United, the most successful club in the history of English soccer and a publicly traded company in the U.S., is having one of its worse seasons in decades. Yet the current struggles on the pitch, says Ed Woodward, team vice chairman, are not damaging the team’s commercial prospects. ”It takes a long, long time to build up a huge fan base,” he told analysts on the call.

Investors don’t necessarily share his confidence or patience. The club’s U.S. owners, the Glazer family, sold 10 percent of Manchester United at $14 a share in an initial public offering in August 2012 on the New York Stock exchange. United’s stock, considered risky to begin with, has been in a slow slide since this season began. That months-long decline has been marked with the smaller ups and downs common to any stock.

The chart below annotates those fluctuations with important events in the course of the season, beginning with the seismic change last May, when 26-year manager Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down, to be replaced by David Moyes.

The interactions between the pitch and the stock price do not follow any precise pattern, but the biggest action seems tied not to wins and losses, but to personnel changes: injuries, and acquisitions, and rumors of acquisitions. The Premier League has two exclusive “transfer windows” for teams to buy and sell players to one another. The first opens after the last day of the season in May and closes at the end of August. The second runs for the month of January. One of the biggest drops in Manchester United’s price—a 9 percent shift in a single day—came during the summer window on June 12. There was no obvious explanation, but one financial site speculated that club’s rumored pursuit of Portugese defender Ezequiel Garay for a £17 million ($28.4 million) fee would have put a squeeze on the teams cash reserves. (Garay stayed put with his club team, Benfica.)

The stock rose in anticipation of the new season beginning on Aug. 17, then fell ahead of the end of the summer transfer window, when the club’s only major signing was Everton midfielder Marouane Fallaini. A win over then-league leader Arsenal on Nov. 10 seemed to provide a boost, as did subsequent rumors that United might sign Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder. (It didn’t.) A Dec. 10 injury to star striker Robin van Persie precipitated a steep fall. The Jan. 24 signing of Chelsea’s Juan Mata, followed by a victory over Cardiff City, seemed to give investors hope, which was then dashed by the club’s first loss to Stoke City since 1984.

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