Dole goes public, but Wall Street doesn't go bananas

In Dole Food Co.'s (DOLE) initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange today, shares came in below their forecast range. The fruit conglomerate raised $446 million, selling 35.7 million shares at $12.50, giving the company a value of $1.09 billion, but the an October 9 filing had anticipated an IPO ranging from $13 to $15.

Dole plans to use the proceeds to repay $451 million in debt, along with a $17 million prepayment penalty. Dole also priced $300 million of convertible securities at $12.50 each.
The IPO's pricing below its initial range suggests that some investors view the stock as damaged goods. David Menlow of IPOfinancial.com told Bloomberg, "Historically, deals that have been priced below the low end of the initial pricing range have a significantly poorer level of performance in the after-market."

So is Dole destined to fail? Not necessarily. The company's valuation, Bloomberg notes, is higher than 9.75 times the estimated 2009 earnings for rival Fresh Del Monte Produce (FDP) and 7.12 times that of Chiquita Brands International (CQB). The IPO was a good move for Dole, but the company may have overestimated its worth. This situation should regulate itself over time.

In any event, IPOs are experiencing a revival. Dole is the 16th U.S. company to go public since the start of September, making this two-month period the most active for IPOs since January–February 2008, when 16 companies also went public. But more than half of those stocks have fallen below their IPO prices; of the current crop of IPOs, half have fallen -- excluding Dole -- and 10 have lagged behind the S&P 500 Index.

This is not Dole's first IPO; it went from public to private in 2003 when David Murdock took it over after pulling it from the brink of bankrupcty. Murdock remains Dole's principal shareholder, with 59 percent of the company after the IPO. The offering will conclude on Wednesday, with Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America (BAC), Deutsche Bank (DB), and Wells Fargo (WFC) as the joint book-running managers.

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