(Sept. 27) NEW YORK — Even as stockholders in Dole Food Co. Inc. filed lawsuits in an apparent effort to stop a takeover bid by the company’s chief executive officer, shares showed little indication of slipping from a surge that began in the wake of initial reports of the buyout offer.

At least five shareholder lawsuits against Dole and its 79-year-old CEO, David Murdock, were filed or made public in Los Angeles superior courts Sept. 24.

According to the Reuters news service, plaintiffs in the suits were claiming Murdock had made a low-ball offer that is “wrong, unfair, harmful to Dole Food public stockholders, (and) wholly inadequate.”

Murdock owns 24% of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole — the nation’s largest produce marketing and distribution company — and has offered to take the firm private with a cash bid worth $1.26 billion.

Dole shares gained as much as $6.11 to $30.60 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange Sept. 23, one day after Murdock had offered $29.50 per share.

Shares closed Sept. 26 at $29.29. The 52-week high for shares is $33.99, reached in May.

Some market observers said the stock price’s spike indicated a counterbid was possible.

But John McMillin, an analyst with Prudential Securities, said he doubted the offer would draw a counterbid.

“If there is another bid, I’d be curious if it came from Europe,” he said. “I wonder who else might surface. I don’t think there’s a long line of interested parties.”

Dole said Sept. 22 that it had received an unsolicited proposal from Murdock to buy the 76% of Dole — 43 million shares — that he and his family don’t already own for $29.50 each. The company said it would consider the offer, which represents nearly a 21% premium over Dole’s closing price of $24.49 Sept. 20.

Then came the lawsuits.

“I think other analysts have been more vocal about the bid being too low,” McMillin said.

“It’s low compared to other food industry transactions, but banana companies are a different animal. The numbers look low, but banana companies have unique risks. You have to let the free market decide,” he said.

Dole suffered a string of earnings shortfalls in recent years, a result of competition among banana producers and Hurricane Mitch in the late 1990s.

Murdock had said he received a “highly confident” letter from Deutsche Bank indicating that it would help fund his bid for Dole, Reuters reported. He also said he would assume any outstanding debt, bringing the value of the offer to $2.5 billion.

Clare Wenner, an analyst for Euro PA, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom, said she doubted that Dole would draw any interest in Europe, even though it has shown gains in the European market.

“I’m not absolutely convinced of that, based on my experience, because the nearer we get to 2006, there will be less money available,” Wenner said, referring to a gradual shift in Europe from a system of import licenses and quotas to a tariff-only approach that takes effect in 2006. “It depends. If it’s a very high tariff you’re going to make money. But, at the moment, it’s kind of handing over to the guys who have the licenses.”