Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Chiquita stockholders quiet


New owners holding onto shares for now

By Cliff Peale, cpeale@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Most of the new owners of Chiquita Brands International Inc. appear to be holding onto their shares for now.

        Only one of those owners, New York money manager OZ Management LLC, has publicly acknowledged its holdings so far. OZ owns about 7.7 percent of Chiquita's new stock.

        Run by the son of new Chiquita chairman and CEO Cyrus Freidheim, OZ filed as a passive investor, meaning that it doesn't plan to shape Chiquita's day-to-day operations.

        Some had predicted that the new shareholders, who acquired Chiquita shares by trading in debt during the company's just-completed stay in bankruptcy, would try to reap the profits quickly.

        As Mr. Freidheim starts his top-to-bottom review of Chiquita's global operations this week, the new owners remain the key to Chiquita's future. They could sell the company to a competitor or to a New York investment group if they want to make a profit immediately.

        But no mass sell-off has appeared, as investors are either waiting for a buyout or hoping that Chiquita's reduced debt and improved prospects overseas raise its stock price even more.

        Monday, the price fell 55 cents to $15.95 a share, still well above the $14.75 first trade on Chiquita's stock when it emerged March 20.

        The new owners still are remaining in the background. Officials at OZ Capital declined comment. Stephen Freidheim, son of Cyrus Freidheim, is a senior managing member at an OZ affiliate.

        Mr. Freidheim, who just retired as vice chairman of consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, and the other four new members of Chiquita's board do not yet own any Chiquita shares, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week.

        New owners of more than 5 percent of Chiquita shares will have to file statements of ownership with the SEC.

        The Chiquita bankruptcy and new stock has turned out to be a boon for the bondholders, especially if they bought Chiquita's bonds at less than full value.

        Speculation about an acquisition has kept the price up and kept many of those new owners from dumping their shares, they have said.

       



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