It was a few minutes after Sports Direct’s financial results came out that my phone buzzed.
It was a message from a contact in the City, who was incredulous about what he was reading.
“In every respect, this is the most extraordinary set of results I’ve ever seen,” he said.
And he wasn’t alone.
Financial results are normally nuanced and cagey. Explanations of numbers; guidance on future performance.
Reading through the 44 pages of closely-set type, it’s easy to come up with an image of Mike Ashley, sitting at a computer and making himself ever more angry with every word he types.
First the results themselves, which are pretty inspired. Then the outlook, which is gloomy. Then his views on Debenhams (furious), House of Fraser (livid, regretful and anxious).
He worries that his company could end up being “cut off completely” from suppliers. None of the Big Four auditors are keen to work with his company and he doesn’t seem keen on them, either.
He thinks advisers working on financial takeovers are chancers who should be regulated, but he also believes that regulators don’t understand retail.
Ashley declares that chief executives, and indeed chief financial officers, should be drug tested. Unions, meanwhile, have tried to “destroy the business”.
As for guidance to future performance – there isn’t any.
Ashley and his team think that the problems of House of Fraser (a company that they chose to buy, it should be noted, after examining its finances) are so immense that it “has led to significant uncertainty as to the future profitability of the group”.
No wonder he rates House of Fraser as a lowly one, on a scale of one to five. You get the impression that it only got one because he didn’t fancy scoring it a zero.
But after all that vitriol, all that anger, the real sting in this coruscating document comes in the very last paragraph.
Hidden away at the very end is the news that Sports Direct has just had a letter through the post, asking for €674m (£605m) in tax, penalties and interest.
The company, it seems, does not know what it’s actually for, which may worry their investors, but maintain that it is specifically related to Belgium, rather than being the first sign of a wider problem.
And yet this is a staggering situation for a listed company.
Tesco went into an absolute tailspin after uncovering a £250m black hole in its accounts. How, now, to explain the fact that a much, much bigger sum seems to have taken Mr Ashley’s team by surprise. The resignation of the company’s chief financial officer may be a coincidence. But it also might not.
From any other well-known corporate name, this would be a bombshell. Investors would run a mile.
But Sports Direct is different
Those who put their money into it have long since grown used to the eccentricities of Mr Ashley, a man who last year told a court stories of his fondness for “power drinking”, and a memorable tale of how he had once drunk 12 pints at a professional meeting in a Derbyshire pub, before vomiting into the fireplace.
So the fact that, once again, his company has the air of a shambles may not surprise them.
But there is one thought that will trouble them – guidance that profits may disappear, along with the dividends.
Confronted with that double whammy, there may be investors who think that enough is enough.