x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gulf bidders surely keener on queen's bank than misfiring Gunners

The Arabian Gulf is going on a shopping spree in the United Kingdom, and I don't mean in Harrods or Harvey Nicks, the Knightsbridge emporia that have traditionally attracted big-spending visitors from the region.

The Arabian Gulf is going on a shopping spree in the United Kingdom, and I don't mean in Harrods or Harvey Nicks, the Knightsbridge emporia that have traditionally attracted big-spending visitors from the region.

Potential Gulf buyers have emerged for three of the highest-profile assets Britain has to offer, a trio of baubles representing a fair cross-section of British commercial life.

On the first, I must declare an interest: Arsenal Football Club is not an institution close to my heart. As a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, the bitter north London rival to Arsenal, my two favourite words in the English language are "Arsenal nil".

But you have to take notice when reputable UK newspapers report that unnamed Gulf parties are interested in a £1.5 billion (Dh8.35bn) bid for the club. They would buy out the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, it was reported and then sink hundreds of millions into the club to "make it great again".

Well, it sure needs something on the evidence of the last game - a demoralising 2-1 defeat to the glorious Spurs. I watched the game in the best sports venue in Dubai - the lounge at the Arabian Courtyard in the Royal Mirage hotel - and took the opportunity to canvass the thoughts of other Spurs fans, all knowledgeable about business and the region.

The consensus was that the proposed deal as reported in the UK media was a non-starter. Supposedly an alliance between UAE and Qatar investors, it looks unlikely from the start.

What synergy would either country get from a deal? Would Arsenal wear "Fly Emirates" on their shirt front and "Qatar Airways" on the back?

And if there is a UAE involvement, it must surely come from Dubai, which already has a long association with Arsenal. But who in Dubai has £750m spare to spend on frippery such as an over-rated football club?

Throw in the fact that Mr Kroenke doesn't want to sell, even for a £350m profit on his investment, and you have a non-story.

The other bauble attracting Gulf attention remains the Financial Times. The owner of the world's best business newspaper, Pearson, has not actually put the Pink 'Un up for sale, but it's an open secret that it would consider an offer if there were a reasonably high digit after the $1bn mark.

The investment bankers are working themselves into a frenzy to find somebody with enough loot to put up such an offer. So far, the US media giant Bloomberg is deemed to be in pole position, a prospect that has FT staffers reaching for the bottle labelled "arsenic".

But I hear, and have heard persistently for months now, that there is real interest from the Gulf region. Perhaps not in mounting a bid for 100 per cent control - that would be deemed brand-destructive, but for as much as 50 per cent. Whatever, it's much more likely than a bid for Arsenal.

The third item that could go into the Gulf shopping cart is Coutts, the top-person's bank which counts one Elizabeth Windsor as a customer. Qatari investors are said to be eyeing the Coutts global franchise in wealth management.

The owner RBS, under government ownership since the financial crisis, will consider anything to get the value up ahead of a sell-down of shares.

In my view, a deal for Coutts is the more likely of the three.

 

fkane@thenational.ae