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Littlewoods pulls out of Russia and India

Littlewoods is to sell its retail operations in Russia and India to concentrate on its home shopping and football pools interests.

The Liverpool-based group, which is being overhauled by the chief executive, James Ross, has already put its UK stores up for sale and last week resumed talks to buy the Freemans mail order business from Sears.

The international division includes four stores in St Petersburg and one in Bangalore which opened only a year ago. Littlewoods has a further 10 franchise outlets in Russia.

Mike Wynne, managing director of Littlewoods International, said: "Despite difficult trading conditions, the stores in Russia and India have produced encouraging sales. However, the businesses have reached a stage where further substantial investment was required to take the business forward."

Littlewoods started trading in Russia in 1991. The stores employ 320 in Russia and 120 in India. Littlewoods International, which includes the group's sourcing operations as well as the overseas stores, recorded a loss of pounds 7.2m last year compared with a loss of pounds 11.5m in 1995. Last year's sales were pounds 11m.

Littlewoods said it had spoken to "one or two" interested parties about the stores.

The company is still in discussions with Sears about the Freemans deal after initial talks collapsed. The company said it hoped to receive notification from the Office of Fair Trading before the election on whether or not the deal would be referred to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission.

Separately, Otto Versand, the German retail group which owns the Grattan mail order business, yesterday denied reports it was planning to launch a pounds 1.7bn break-up bid for Sears.

The company said it was not planning such as move, though it remained interested in acquiring the Freemans business under conditions offered last year. Reports had suggestedOtto Versand was planning a 110p per share bid for the whole of Sears as a way of gaining control of Freemans. Sears shares closed 1p higher at 74p.