BRIEF-IFF LAUNCHES TASTEPOINT BY IFF TO SERVE MID-TIER CUSTOMERS IN NORTH AMERICA
* SAYS LAUNCHED TASTEPOINT BY IFF - A NEW COMPANY DESIGNED TO SERVICE MIDDLE-MARKET CUSTOMER IN NORTH AMERICA Source text for Eikon: Further company coverage:
* Billabong has matching bids from two sets of suitors
* Shares hit record low, fans concerns about the bids
* Company requested trading halt to investigate reason for fall
* Previous higher bids withdrawn after due diligence
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY, March 21 Troubled Australian surfwear firm Billabong International Ltd said on Thursday it remains in talks with two groups weighing $544 million bids for the company -- a statement that comes after the company's shares plunged to a record low.
Billabong had asked for a trading halt to investigate why its shares had fallen more than 20 percent earlier in the day, a slide which exacerbated fears about the status of the bids.
It has received matching bids of A$1.10 a share --one by a consortium of private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners and U.S. clothing group VF Corp, and another from Billabong's former U.S. boss Paul Naude and private equity firm Sycamore Partners.
Due diligence is expected to be completed by the end of the month.
In a statement, Billabong said it was not aware of the reason for increased levels of trading earlier in the day but had noted that there had been an article about the company in the Australian Financial Review.
The Australian Financial Review said investors were struggling to find fair value for the firm and cited a Credit Suisse report that mentioned the potential for weaker earnings.
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 Subsequent offers of A$1.45 from TPG and Bain Capital were withdrawn after due diligence.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.
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 the trading halt.
* Oil bounce also supports market (Adds detail, updates prices at close)