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Shares in takeover target Billabong hit record low, halted

A Billabong employee opens the company store in central Sydney August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz
A Billabong employee opens the company store in central Sydney August 27, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Shares in Australian surfwear brand and takeover target Billabong International Ltd tumbled more than 20 percent to an all-time low on Thursday amid concerns about the status of two rival $544 million bids for the company.

Billabong, which has been struggling with big losses, has been in talks with two takeover suitors - private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners, led by Billabong's former U.S. boss Paul Naude, and clothing group VF Corp . Due diligence on the bids, pitched by both groups at A$1.10 a share, was expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Shares in Billabong, whose brands include its namesake as well as Von Zipper and Element, sank to an all-time low of A$0.63 and last traded down 14.2 percent at A$0.695, before being placed on a trading halt at the request of the company.

"This one has got people concerned, we've seen four bids already that have all been withdrawn at the due diligence stage," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist, CMC Markets.

"The market had more confidence around these bids because they're coming from company insiders, who the market felt would be less likely to fall away in the due diligence process, but the market is obviously nervous ahead of this announcement."

Billabong said the trading halt was needed so it could "investigate the reason for the trading levels", without providing any further detail.

The company had a tumultuous 2012, alienating investors after rejecting a A$3.30 bid by TPG Capital in February as too low. Subsequent offers of A$1.45 from TPG and Bain Capital were withdrawn after due diligence.

Billabong has sold off key assets and replaced its chief executive in the past year as a result of profit downgrades.

It posted a net loss of A$536.6 million in the half year to end December and cut its guidance for the full year.

($1 = 0.9626 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Lincoln Feast and Thuy Ong; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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