Dole Foods goes to the market -- the stock market

Is it bananas to take a company public in this economy? The owner of Dole Foods hopes not.

This morning, the fruit company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering in the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol DOLE. The underwriters are Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Bank of America Merrill Lynch; Deutsche Bank Securities; and Wells Fargo Securities.

There are no details yet, but it's worth considering that, when chairman David H. Murdock took the company private in 2003, the transaction was valued at $2.5 billion. The IPO could be an exit strategy for the 86-year-old Murdock, who has been involved with Dole since he bought a controlling interest in its then-parent Castle & Cooke Inc. in 1985. It will also help the company dig out from its debt load; Dole has reduced its debt by $480 million over the last five quarters, but that's still only 20 percent of the nearly $2.5 billion it had initially.

The IPO market practically shut down after the stock market's swan dive last fall, but has begun to show signs of life in recent weeks. Besides Dole, 32 companies have filed papers this year to issue new stock, six in this month alone, including Hyatt Hotels and, according to Renaissance Capital LLC. Dole's IPO is expected to raise about $500 million, according to the filing; most of this money is tagged for paying down debt. According to the filing, anything left will be used for corporate purposes.

The fruit business has taken its hits from currency swings and the world recession, but it's still tasty for Dole. The 152-year old company that made pineapples common in U.S. kitchens has been taking advantage of the public's interest in healthy eating by expanding lines of bagged salads and packaged fruits. Last week, Dole posted revenues of $1.7 billion for the second quarter of 2009, down from $2 billion in 2008, which it blamed on currency and the sale of some foreign operations.
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