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After fending off takeover, Clearwater grows

You can call it the takeover bid that wasn't.

In September, Cooke Aquaculture put in an offer for Clearwater Seafoods, catching investors off guard. Clearwater's three largest shareholders include founders John Risley and Colin MacDonald, and combined they hold almost 60 per cent of the shares, making it almost impossible for Cooke to be successful.

But there was a slim chance that Cooke could have win control if it got its hands on Clearwater's convertible debentures and then turned them into common shares, but that never happened. All Clearwater ended up having to was form a special committee to assess the bid, deem it to be a lowball price and then reject the takeover.

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Once that happened, Cooke never came back. "It's just been completely quiet," said Beacon Securities analyst Michael Mills.

And during this quiet, Clearwater's profits have continued to come back. Year-end earnings came out Tuesday morning, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization jumped from $50.6-million in 2010 to $60-million last year.

As EBITDA grows, Clearwater's leverage multiple continues to drop, falling from a scary 6.71 times at the end of 2008 to 3.85 last year. It now has a target to get it under 3 times by the end of 2014 -- though that is still long way away.

Now the company's big goal should be to reduce its absolute debt load, rather than hope that EBITDA keeps growing to make the leverage seem small in comparison.

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More

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