Fisher confident despite £6.5m loss

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The Independent Online
Shares in Albert Fisher, the vegetable and frozen food group that has re-emerged as a takeover candidate due to its weak price, rose slightly yesterday on the back of a confident trading statement.

The shares managed a 1p increase to 45p even though the company warned that the disposal of a Belgian subsidiary will result in an exceptional loss in the half year of £6.5m.

The company said the loss related to a goodwill write-off on the sale of Delby's, a food broker, which was announced in November.

Chief executive Stephen Walls, who has been moving Albert Fisher away from commodity businesses and towards added-value operations such as ready- made meals, said trading was is line with expectations.

The American operations were performing better as a result of firmer produce prices and management action, he said.

In Europe, the food processing and fresh produce businesses have been performing well, though the seafood division has started slowly due to margin pressures.

Mr Walls said the re-positioning of the group was almost complete and that there were some signs of improving market conditions in some areas.

Albert Fisher has been actively expanding its fish processing businesses since the acquisition of Rahbek, a Danish processor, in April last year. It now has eight fish companies and entered the US market this month when it paid £5.4m for a 60 per cent stake in Aqua Star, a Seattle-based shrimps, salmon and shellfish business that was a management buy-out from BP Nutrition.

Albert Fisher has an option to increase its stake in Aqua, which Mr Walls sees as the bridgehead for the group's expansion plans in the US.

Speculation on a possible bid for Albert Fisher has been fuelled by the company's share performance. It underpreformed the FT All-Share Index by some 30 per cent last year.