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MONDAY BUSINESS : STOCK SPOTLIGHT: DOLE FOOD

Picking low-hanging fruit

Firm sells its Asia and packaged-goods units to focus on fresh produce elsewhere. It expects lower sales but higher profits.

June 10, 2013|Alejandro Lazo
  • Dole Food, which helped make pineapples one of Hawaiis top exports, has sprawling farms of the fruit in the Aloha State. Above, workers pack whole pineapples for shipment at a Dole plantation in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
Dole Food, which helped make pineapples one of Hawaiis top exports, has… (Tim Rue / Bloomberg )

Dole Food Co. introduced mainland Americans to the Hawaiian pineapple more than a century ago and grew the fresh fruit business into a global empire.

But the Westlake Village food company has trimmed down considerably. The company sold its worldwide packaged-goods units and its Asia fresh-produce business to Japanese firm Itochu Corp. for $1.7 billion this year to focus more narrowly on its fresh produce elsewhere in the world.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, June 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Dole Food Co.: In the June 10 Section A, a Monday Business stock spotlight article about Dole Food Co. said that Chief Executive David A. DeLorenzo stepped down to run Itochu Corp. He joined Itochu Corp. to run the newly acquired Dole Asia Holdings. Also, the article said Dole's profit in 2011 was $42 billion; the profit was $42 million.

The company, also a major provider of bananas, expects lower revenue but higher profit as it concentrates on its fresh vegetable and fruit businesses in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Africa.

Dole, which helped make pineapples one of Hawaii's top exports, retains sprawling farms of the fruit in the Aloha State.

The sale of its packaged goods and Asia units to Itochu also meant a big leadership change for the company.

Dole's chief executive, David A. DeLorenzo, stepped down to run Itochu. Ninety-year-old Chairman David H. Murdock, a self-made billionaire who has served as chairman of Dole since 1985, added DeLorenzo's job to his roles.

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The latest

It's not clear how long Murdock, who retains more than 40% of the company's shares, will serve as chief executive or whether the company will search for a new leader. Murdock did not participate in the company's first-quarter conference call with analysts, which was led by C. Michael Carter, president and chief operating officer.

As a global business, the company said it plans to acquire three new specially refrigerated container ships for its operations on the West Coast, suspending a share buyback program to fund the purchases.

The company also said it is marketing more than 20,000 acres of land that it is not farming on the island of Oahu.

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Accomplishments

Founded in 1851 as the Hawaiian Pineapple Co., Dole became a leading innovator of canned and processed fruits in the 20th century.

James Drummond Dole -- the cousin of Sanford Dole, the Hawaiian jurist and first governor of the island state -- used his connections to capitalize on rapid advances in technology and canning. The company made pineapples popular and ubiquitous in grocery aisles across the country.

Murdock, the son of a traveling salesman, has controlled the company since 1985 and served as chief executive into 2007.

He took the company private in 2003 in a deal valued at $2.5 billion and, six years later, took it public again, in part, to pay off debt from going private.

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Challenges

Since its shares started trading publicly again in 2009, Dole has struggled to gain major interest from investors.

After the sale to Itochu, it was left with a much more volatile business.

Recent weather extremes, for instance, have made it tough on the fresh fruit and vegetable business and have disrupted the company's ability to deliver stable earnings.

In particular, the company's strawberry farms in California have been exposed to "extreme warm weather followed by unusual cold weather and now warm weather again," the company said last month in releasing its first-quarter financial results.

The company said it also expects overall lower earnings from its bananas and berries operations this year. Dole has refinanced its debt and reduced it $50 million to $1.64 billion.

Last year, it lost $142 million on $4.2 billion in sales, compared with a profit of $42 billion on $4.8 billion in sales a year earlier.

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Analyst views

One analyst rates the stock a buy, two recommend holding it and two suggest selling. Analysts estimate that shares will be trading at $10.50 a year from now, 63 cents higher than Friday's closing price.

"While Dole's commodity-centric capital allocation track record suggests risk, we think its valuation is cheap enough to offer a compelling ... opportunity," wrote Jonathan Feeney, an analyst with Janney Capital Markets.

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alejandro.lazo@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOZ)

The company: Dole Food Co.

Headquarters: Westlake Village

Ticker: DOLE

Employees: 15,600 full-time permanent; 9,400 full-time seasonal or temporary

Leadership: David H. Murdock, chief executive from 1985 to 2007 and since December

Fiscal 2012 revenue: $4.2 billion

Fiscal 2012 net loss: $142 million

Stock price: $9.87 at Friday's close

52-week range: $8.39 to $15.19

P/E ratio: 23, based on estimated 2013 earnings

Quarterly dividend: none

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