Watmoughs accuses bidder of false claims

Watmoughs, the printing group fighting off a pounds 188m hostile takeover bid by rival Quebecor, yesterday intensified the war of words with its Canadian suitor, accusing the bidder of making false and contradictory claims.

In the third defence document released by Watmoughs, and the second sent to its investors in the space of a week, the company said Quebecor had misrepresented the UK group's prospects.

Sir Derek Birkin, Watmoughs chairman, insisted the company had invested heavily in new technology, rubishing Quebecor's claim that it needed to buy state-of-the-art equipment. Watmoughs also pointed to its position in the consumer magazine market with the contract to print Hello magazine. Quebecor had claimed the company did not print any top 10 weekly consumer titles.

Sir Derek warned shareholders that Quebecor's bid arguments should be treated with "extreme scepticism," though the UK company said it had not lodged a complaint about the tactics with the Takeover Panel.

The defence document added that Watmoughs' operating profit margins, at 12.1 per cent, were higher than the 8.8 per cent achieved by Quebecor. "Shareholders should not be deluded by Quebecor's cavalier generalisations and factually inaccurate and contradictory statements," added Sir Derek.

Quebecor responded by saying that Watmoughs was fast becoming its own best customer, given the number of defence documents it had released. "They should consider saving trees instead," said a spokesman, who continued: "One of the few documents they haven't quoted from is the Holy Bible. If shareholders don't like our offer then they don't have to accept it."

Watmoughs shares closed unchanged on Friday at 279.5p, 22.5p higher than Quebecor's bid. Analysts expect the Canadian group to raise its offer before the extended bid deadline of 22 January

- Chris Godsmark

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