LONDON (Reuters) - Fund manager JJB Sports (JJB.L) said it was planning to open its first organic shop in the United States and that Li Ka-shing’s Neptune was its largest investor, a week after announcing its exit from the UK retail sector.

Britain’s biggest sporting goods retailer, which reported last week a strong Christmas in clothing, said the Neptune Global Alternatives Fund portfolio, which manages 7.4 billion pounds ($9.6 billion), had become its largest investor.

A spokesman for JJB told Reuters the fund was managed by Green Corn Capital, which has a small holding in JJB. The fund’s chief investment officer, Adrian Fisher, was not immediately available for comment.

“We continue to see this fund as a great vehicle for growing our own investor base as well as a solid partner for our global asset management team,” CEO Paul Jones said in a statement.

Retailers continue to struggle in Britain, weighed down by rising rents and online competition, while major supermarket Tesco (TSCO.L) is cutting its dividend and pensions costs in response to a tough environment for its industry.

Last week, JJB chief executive Paul Jones said the company was considering selling its sports and leisure shops - a likely disposal as the firm is looking to concentrate on its footwear, clothing and outdoor goods stores, where it has a more modern and growing set of customers.

Jones said on Friday that the Neptune fund held 25.7 million shares in JJB, or 3.08 percent of the business, worth 1.28 billion pounds.

With JJB under pressure in the past 18 months from a complicated rights issue to help fund its own recovery, JJB said its 2018 performance would mark its first positive financial year in six years.

Jones told Reuters the pace of recent sales growth had accelerated in January, and said he was seeing growing evidence that young and middle-aged men were starting to seek out the firm’s products again.

In a move that could further support a revival in the sportswear market, British retailer and travel operator Thomas Cook (TCG.L) said on Friday that its old Journeys outdoor goods business would cut back in the United States.

($1 = 0.7034 pounds)