Officials with Dole Food Co. Inc. are playing it close to the vest when it comes to spinning off their packaged foods division, but some Wall Street analysts believe the company will put its cards on the table in the next couple of months.
“I am unable to give any further comments at this time, besides what was stated publicly on our last earnings call,” said Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Food Co. and Dole Fresh Fruit, Westlake Village, Calif.
During that May 3 conference call, Dole’s chief executive officer David DeLorenzo said the company was in the middle of a “strategic review” that could result in “full or partial separation” of its packaged foods business.
“Packaged foods has high growth potential and really deserves higher valuation,” DeLorenzo said during the call. “This is really more about unlocking value than any other strategic type of movement.
“Our goal would be to accomplish something by the end of this year. We have come across some opportunities that, if we are able to execute, would be good for both the packaged foods business and the commodities business.”
Financial analysts have been watching the company closely since then. Several have said recently in blogs and the financial trade media that Dole’s stock is undervalued.
Stephen Leeb, president of the investment firm Leeb Capital Management, New York, told Forbes that Dole is poised for fast growth. He cited discussions of the spinoff as being much of the rationale behind that assessment.
Using other similar company spinoffs as a rule of thumb, Leeb told Forbes that a split at Dole could send its stock valuation to $16 per share.
As of the second week in July, Dole stock was trading around $9, down from its 52-week high of $14.58.
For the first quarter of its fiscal year, Dole posted lower revenue than in 2011, mainly because of the lowest vegetable commodity prices in 15 years, company officials said during the May 3 earnings call.
Despite all of that, Heather Jones, managing director of BB&T Capital Markets, said the stock retains its “buy” rating.
“We think there is a lot of potential there,” Jones said July 11. “We expect an announcement in the next couple of months (about the spinoff).”
Jones said she believes Dole stock is currently undervalued, which is part of the reasoning behind the “buy” rating. She also said it is not yet clear whether Dole will spin off its packaged foods into a separate entity or sell it outright.
Dole’s fresh division is seeing improvement, Jones said, because the European banana market is making progress and Dole’s packaged salads are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.