SHARES in Albemarle & Bond were suspended today after the stricken pawnbroker was told by its lenders that they will not be able to support its plans to save the business.

The banks' rejection of the management strategy means there are just seven days left to find a solution for the Reading-based group before a March 31 deadline.

It warned that, while it had enough cash to carry on trading, it would be unable to meet liabilities if all its debts are called in at that time.

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Albemarle said a cut-price sale of the business was still a possibility but warned that the remaining options open to it provide no realistic prospect of any value being attributable to the companys ordinary shares.

Trading in the Aim-listed stock was suspended at 6.65p, with the shares having lost about 97 per cent of their value in the last year.

In January, analysts said the company looked likely to go into administration after it abandoned an attempt to sell itself, saying none of the proposals it had received represented a fair value for the business.

Plunging gold prices and competition have left the group struggling with losses and overstretched finances.

Albemarle has warned that earnings will be significantly below expectations and admitted it has resorted to melting down gold jewellery stocks to raise cash.

There has been a mass exodus of its board of directors, with five of its six non-executives quitting at the start of December.

In a statement today, the group said: "Over the weekend, the board was informed by the companys lenders that they will not be able to support the management turnaround plan for the business.

"The board is continuing to work with the companys lenders on possible alternative options for stakeholders.

"However, the board of Albemarle now believes that these remaining options open to the company, which could include the sale of the business at a level below the current level of financial indebtedness, provide no realistic prospect of any value being attributable to the companys ordinary shares."

Albemarle said lenders had indicated they may be willing to extend a deferral of its loan obligations beyond the March 31 deadline in certain circumstances.

It added: "But if they do not then the company could be required to repay its outstanding loan facilities and, although the company has sufficient cash headroom to meet current trading requirements, if the entire debt facility became repayable it would not be able to meet this liability."