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Dole shares fall after IPO

By   /   Friday, October 23rd, 2009  /   Comments Off on Dole shares fall after IPO

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Produce giant Dole Food Co.’s initial public offering has borne less fruit than the company hoped.

The Westlake Village firm’s shares fell Oct. 23 after hitting the market at a lower-than-expected price, a possible sign that investors feel billionaire majority owner David Murdock overreached in tapping the public markets to pay off some of his own debts.

Dole, once the largest private company in the Tri-Counties with $7.6 billion in 2008 revenue, was a public company until real estate magnate Murdock took it private in 2003. In August, the firm said it would go public again by selling 37.5 million shares to raise as much as $575 million to help pay off its $1.9 billion in debt.

Earlier this month, Dole said it sought to price its initial public offering at between $13 and $15 a share. But the shares made their debut at $12.50, raising only $446.4 million. Shares fell to $12.17 by midday.

As Dole was gearing up for the public offering, observers said a decline in share prices after the offering would hurt both Dole and the confidence of the broader market, which has looked to Dole’s offering as a test of whether big firms can succeed going public.

“They can’t get greedy on this one,” Lloyd Greif, president and chief executive of Greif & Co. in Los Angeles, said in the weeks leading up to the IPO. “They want to make sure it goes up after the offering. If it doesn’t, it’ll be a disaster for the underwriters and will chill the market.”

Part of the problem with the Dole IPO was that investors didn’t see how it would benefit them. They wouldn’t gain control of Dole’s valuable brand name and ample agricultural holdings. In its public filings, Dole noted upfront that Murdock would remain in command of the company with 59 percent ownership.

“Mr. Murdock and his affiliates will, for the foreseeable future, have significant influence over our management and affairs, and will be able to control virtually all matters requiring stockholder approval, including the election of directors and significant corporate transactions such as mergers or other sales of our company or assets,” the company said in Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Investors also seemed less than enthused that at least part of the proceeds were going to pay off debt personally guaranteed by Murdock. About $85 million of the initial public offering money was earmarked for payment on a $115 million tab that Murdock ran up building the Four Seasons Westlake Village, a posh “executive wellness” resort built adjacent to Dole’s headquarters.

Dole has also said that the public offering funds will go toward a $44 million payment on what is essentially its corporate credit card and $200 million to repay notes due in 2011.

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