(Dec. 23) Speculation was swirling that Fresh Del Monte Produce NA Inc. might be on the block. However, at least one analyst has doubts that the company will be sold.

After slumping to a yearly low in early December, Fresh Del Monte Produce shares rebounded on a www.thedeal.com report that the company was for sale.

Shares of Fresh Del Monte Produce had risen from $22.69 to $24.64 when reports of a possible sale of the company first surfaced Dec. 16. The stock had hit its 12-month low Dec. 9, at $21.90. Its peak for the year, $33.94, occurred Feb. 3.

Company shares closed at $23.71 Dec. 20.

A sale could be worth about $1.8 billion, according to www.thedeal.com. The company had a market capitalization of $1.37 billion as of Dec. 21.

“Obviously, I’ve heard the rumors, and it actually caught me a little bit by surprise,” Eric Larson, senior analyst with Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray & Co., said Dec. 21. “I know the controlling group IAT pretty well. Given their passion for the business and their desire to grow, it seems a little inconsistent with what I know about them.”

IAT Group Inc., based in the Cayman Islands, is controlled by the family of Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, Fresh Del Monte’s chairman and chief executive officer. IAT is also Fresh Del Monte’s largest shareholder.

Telephone calls to Fresh Del Monte’s corporate base in Coral Gables, Fla., were not returned.

Media reports quoted officials at the New York Stock Exchange as saying that the company said it was its policy not to comment on stock activity investors might deem unusual.

Larson noted that anything could happen.

“I never rule it out, but I hold it at a lower probability than maybe most people do,” he said.

Company shares had been over $31 as recently as April. But the stock price slid over the summer, exacerbated by hurricanes.

“If (a problem occurred) in the last two quarters, it’s trends in their business and it’s completely related to their shortfall in their earnings from operations,” Larson said.