Clothing group denies split

Country Casuals Holdings, the womenswear group, yesterday dismissed suggestions of a boardroom split over the disposal of loss-making businesses after announcing there would be no full-year dividend payment.

Chief executive Mark Bunce, who this week revealed he was interested in bidding for the group, was thought to have opposed other board members on the sale of Elvi, the womenswear retailer, and Lerose, the clothing manufacturer. The board is understood to want to focus on the profitable Country Casuals brand.

Andrew Mills-Baker, finance director, said yesterday that the board agreed on the disposals. "It's a piece of fiction. Someone's drawn the wrong conclusion," he said.

The group said it was seeking buyers for the loss-making operations in February, after announcing its second profits warning in three months.

On Tuesday it announced that Mr Bunce, a co-founder of the company, was considering bidding for the group.

"What all parties are trying to do is increase shareholder value. Mr Bunce believes he can accelerate the process in terms of a price," said Mr Mills-Baker.

He said that Mr Bunce had a deadline of weeks rather than months to submit a bid. Sources believe Mr Bunce considers that in the long term the loss- making businesses could contribute to shareholder value.

There was no end-of-year dividend, so the final dividend is 1.70p, down from 5.41p last year. Group pre-tax profits were down 57 per cent to pounds 108,000, in line with last month's profits warning. Elvi made an operating loss before exceptional items of pounds 1.6m, with turnover up 19 per cent. Country Casuals made pounds 3m on increased turnover of pounds 40m, slightly up on last year. The shares rose 2.5p to 115p.

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