Littlewoods chief 'has full backing of Moores'

Littlewoods yesterday claimed that its chairman, James Ross, had the full support of the Moores family shareholders, which own the group, in spite of continued criticism of his decision not to sell the entire high street stores business to a venture capital-backed consortium.

As the company announced a sharp fall in annual profits to pounds 85m caused by heavy exceptional charges and lower profits at it football pools business, Littlewoods issued a statement after a meeting of the family shareholders at London's Grosvenor House Hotel.

It said shareholders, at a routine "forum" meeting, reaffirmed their complete confidence in the chairman and the board of the company.

Earlier, Mr Ross had defended his decision to ignore a bid backed by CVC Capital Partners and led by former management at Bhs. He said the bid was not worth the pounds 540m claimed and that the offer would not have yielded sufficient benefit to shareholders.

"The offer was one of several alternatives looked at. We negotiated fully with them but the deal did not provide anything like the benefits of the other options.

"No board of either a private or a quoted company... goes with all the details of every offer that is made to shareholders and says `please tell me what to do'."

He said all the family shareholders had signed a shareholder charter last April that separated shareholder and board responsibilities. But he said "you might expect there to be a difference of opinion" in such a large group.

Mr Ross said the deal to sell 19 stores to Marks & Spencer for pounds 192.5m last week represented the best method of creating value for shareholders. However, it is understood that the CVC consortium would have been prepared to increase the cash element of its offer if it had been approached.

Littlewoods results for the 12 months to 30 April showed that though trading profits were 34 per cent higher at pounds 105m, the figures were hit by a pounds 19m charge for pulling out of international retailing.

Home shopping was the star performer with profits up from pounds 37m to pounds 58m. Stores profits were 10 per cent higher at pounds 35.4. Leisure profits were affected by the launch of the mid-week National Lottery and fell pounds 2m to pounds 22m.

In current trading like-for-like sales at the high street stores business are down 13 per cent. Group sales were flat at pounds 2.3bn.