False Spring For A Seed Company

After a buying spree, AgriBioTech must juggle a big debt load

Last spring, as agricultural-biotech fever raged on Wall Street, one of the hottest bets was AgriBioTech Inc. The Henderson (Nev.)-based company had gobbled up dozens of small seed companies, and its gung ho chief exec, Johnny Thomas, 57, spun a good story for the Street. He claimed his company was positioned to develop genetically enhanced alfalfa and turf grasses and would soon have the breadth to distribute them nationwide. As big-name investors such as George Soros and Fidelity Investments rushed to buy in, AgriBioTech's shares shot up tenfold from early 1997, to 29.

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