NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There's big news in pineapples today, as Dole Food (DOLE) CEO David Murdock has reportedly made an offer to acquire the balance of the company for $12 a share, which represents about an 18% premium to yesterday's close. Murdock, who already owns about 40% of the company, has been a significant buyer of the stock over the past year, perhaps signaling his intentions. Interestingly, David Murdock turned 90 years old this April, and this offer shows that he has no signs of slowing down.
Dole has long been an interesting name in value circles, the asset rich company owns 80,000 acres of land in Central America and 25,000 acres in Hawaii, but has historically had a relatively large amount of debt on the balance sheet, $1.64 billion as of the latest quarter.
But that should be reduced soon; last September the company agreed to sell its packaged foods business to Japan's Itochu Corporation for $1.7 billion in cash. Once completed, that transaction should significantly reduce debt, and associated interest expense. When that sale was announced, Dole shares were trading in the $14 range, and you have to wonder whether current shareholders will be happy to part with their shares for $12.
It's been a busy year for Dole, along with the asset sale, last month the company announced a $200 million stock buyback program. While the company has taken great strides to become leaner and meaner, who would have expected a 90 year old CEO would make a play for the company? But this is not just any CEO, Murdock has been quoted in the past saying that he expects to live to 125. More power to him, but it will be interesting to see how this situation will play out.
Murdock is not the only nine-decades-old active CEO; Tootsie Roll's (TR) CEO and Chairman Melvin Gordon is still on the job at age 93. His wife Ellen, at 81, is president and COO. The Gordons effectively control the company via their majority stake in the company's class B shares, which enjoy superior voting rights.
I've followed Tootsie Roll Industries for years, and previously held a position in the name. It is a who's who of brands, which besides the obvious (Tootsie Rolls, and Tootsie Pops) also includes Charleston Chews, Charms Blow Pops, Dubble Bubble, Junior Mints, Andes Mints, Razzles, and Sugar Daddy to name a handful. This is a solid and potentially valuable portfolio of well-known products, and one that has been profitable for Tootsie Roll for decades.
Unfortunately over the years the company's operating performance has been sliding. In 2004 and 2005, the company's net margins were above 15%. But since then, revenue has stagnated, and net margins have been cut dramatically. Last year, the company bottom-lined 9.5% of revenue, which is nothing to sneeze at, but a far cry from where it was. Revenue has also been flat, increasing less than 10% since 2006.
When I owned Tootsie Roll shares, it was in part due to the presumption that aging owners would be selling the business, and that that it would command a nice premium to a company such as Hershey (HSY). I finally gave up on that notion as revenue stagnated, margins declined, and the Gordons showed no interest in selling.
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Several years later, the Gordons are still going strong, the stock is doing fairly well, and commanding a rather high 37 price-to-earnaing ratio. Given David Murdock's offer for the rest of Dole, perhaps I had it all wrong. Perhaps the Gordons will be buyers, and not sellers.
Let's hear it for the old guys (and gals)!
At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.
Jon is also the founder of the
, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.