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Albert Fisher bid talks collapse

Albert Fisher, the struggling food group, stunned shareholders yesterday when it announced it had terminated talks that could have led to a takeover of the company.

Though Albert Fisher had never disclosed the identity of the bidder the market had always assumed it was American banana group Chiquita. The talks, which were first revealed in June, are understood too have foundered on disagreements over the price Chiquita was willing to pay. Consequently, Albert Fisher said it had not felt able to recommend the offer to shareholders.

Albert Fisher shares slumped 4.75p to 38.75p on the news as analysts rushed to downgrade their profit forecasts and break-up values of the sprawling group run by Stephen Walls.

The company said it has completed a review of its strategy, though it will not announce the details until later this month. It is expected to sell its seafood business, which is thought to be worth around pounds 90m. The proceeds will fund a share buy-back or special dividend worth more than pounds 100m. Other peripheral businesses are also expected to be sold.

Analysts said the disposal of the volatile seafood business, which has been hit recently by poor cockle harvests, would make the group a more attractive break-up target. Analysts are pencilling a possible break-up value of 47p per share. Most say a takeover of the whole group is unlikely as Albert Fisher retains too many poor businesses in commodity markets.

One food analyst said: "It's very disappointing. We were hoping this company's days were numbered."