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Zapata plans Net comeback

The fish oil and meat-casings firm says it is getting back into the Net business, reversing an earlier decision to cancel a number of online alliances.

Zapata, a fish oil and meat-casings company, wants to start trolling again for Internet businesses.

Zapata's announcement, made in light of improved financial markets, reverses an earlier decision to cancel a number of online alliances.

Zapata said in October it was backing out of buying and investing in 31 Internet companies because of the decline in online companies' shares. Zapata shares rose 6.5625 to 13.75 in early afternoon trading after being halted earlier on the news.

In May, Zapata burst onto the Internet scene with a $1.68 billion bid to buy No. 2 Internet directory Excite, an offer Excite promptly rejected. Before canceling its online plans, Zapata had agreed to buy or invest in Web sites, a move to try to compete with Web directories such as Yahoo and Excite.

Just weeks after the company announced it was backing out of plans to acquire or invest in 31 Internet companies, it was slapped by a shareholder suit charging that Zapata and its executives made false and misleading statements about implementing its Internet strategy.

In October, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of all purchasers of the common stock of Zapata from July 6, 1998, through October 15, 1998.

Today, the company said it is returning to its original plans.

"Since we began our strategic review two months ago, global financial markets have strengthened dramatically and the Internet sector, in particular, has been positively impacted," Avram Glazer, president of Zapata, said in a statement.

The Houston-based company said its new Internet effort will focus on the development of an Internet-related brand name and a network of sites.

Two months ago, Zapata told the companies that it had been negotiating with that it wouldn't go through with the transactions or that it might reconsider them after markets became more stable. The company also said it planned to create a subsidiary, Zap, and possibly hold an initial public offering or spin it off to shareholders.

Zapata stock surged to its highest price in more than ten years when the company said in July that it planned to split into two companies to better focus on the Internet. The company said that it wanted to be one of the largest Internet companies in the world and went on a buying spree, adding services such as Web searches and online chat through small or little-known Web companies.

Zapata, through its Zap subsidiary, had planned to enter the Internet space by creating a portal that its executives had characterized as the "roach motel"--eyeballs check in but they don't check out. The game plan entailed spinning off Zap in an initial public offering.

But as the global markets slumped, especially hitting Internet stocks, Zapata canceled its plans to invest in or acquire such companies as Web community CoolChat, games information site Attitude Network, personal finance and investment Webzine Green, online college resource site GoCollege, and online community Bianca Troll Productions.

Zapata also owns a packaging company, a fleet of fishing boats, and several processing plants that make fish meal and oil used in animal feed.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.