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Cutrale-Safra boosts offer for Chiquita, 50 cent per share

Cutrale Group and Safra Group have increased their offer to acquire Chiquita Brands International Inc. to $742 million, boosting their bid to $14.50 per share.

That's up from the Brazilian companies' previous offer of $14 per share. And they had initially proposed a $13-per-share deal.

The newly ramped-up offer comes on the eve of a Friday vote by Chiquita shareholders to merge the Charlotte-based banana supplier with Fyffes plc of Ireland.

One big shareholder, Wynnefield Capital Inc., which owns 1.7 million shares of Chiquita stock, says the boosted offer is "significant." The investment firm says it now supports the Cutrale-Safra deal. The transaction would be less risky than the Fyffes purchase, Wynnefield states in a news release about the increased Cutrale-Safra bid.

"Chiquita Brands would be a better company for all stakeholders as a private enterprise," the New York-based investment firm states in its news release.

Chiquita directors have repeatedly rejected the unsolicited bids from Cutrale-Safra, saying a merger with Fyffes was a better long-term deal. Under that plan, Chiquita would acquire Fyffes, and the combined company's headquarters would be in Dublin.

Under the Chiquita offer for Fyffes, Fyffes shareholders would get 0.1113 shares of the merged company's stock, while Chiquita shareholders would get one share for each Chiquita share that they possess. The sweetened Chiquita offer for Fyffes would boost Chiquita shareholders' ownership in the merged company to 59.6 percent.

In a statement this morning, Cutrale-Safra noted its latest offer of $14.50 per share in cash equates to a 14 percent premium on Chiquita's closing stock price of $12.74 per share on Wednesday.

Chiquita acknowledged the increased offer from Cutrale-Safra this morning and said its board of directors would carefully review it.

In mid-day trading, Chiquita shares had risen to $13.77, up 8.1 percent from Wednesday's close.

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